State Senate eyes legalized online poker

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ALBANY -- Looking for a cash infusion, the State Senate Monday proposed legalizing online poker as New York's budget fight began to take shape.

The state Senate and Assembly each passed versions of a budget Monday -- essentially, public statements of spending priorities. Though non-binding, the documents outline where the Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo clash over the next two weeks as they try to beat the April 1 budget deadline.

Lawmakers signaled the battles would center on increases for schools and the disabled, tax cuts for businesses and homeowners, and control over discretionary funds. A key part of the school fight pits an Assembly Democrats' proposal to effectively exonerate New York City from missing a deadline for implementing a teacher-evaluation plan that would otherwise cost it $240 million. The Senate wants to spread that money around statewide.

Meanwhile, legislators indicated they might postpone discussion of Cuomo's proposal to site three upstate non-Indian-run casinos.

"I'm really not very optimistic that casinos will be part of this budget," said Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) said after emerging from a meeting with Cuomo.

Minimum wage appears stalled, too. "I would say it's not a major part of the discussion at all," Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said after leaving the same meeting.

School aid, as is customary, looms as one of the biggest battles.

Cuomo in January proposed boosting education aid by roughly $500 million statewide, a 3 percent increase. The Democrat-led Assembly Monday proposed an $834 million hike; the politically split Senate, a $931 million increase.

Similarly, both houses want to increase direct aid to municipalities and reject Cuomo's proposed $120 million cut to programs for the developmentally disabled.

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Senate Republicans proposed a slew of tax cuts, including eliminating corporate taxes on manufacturers and allowing a special utility tax to expire. Cuomo has proposed renewing it, which would generate about $250 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Assembly Democrats want to increase aid to community colleges and to the state's tuition assistance program.

Meanwhile, Klein and Skelos proposed allowing online poker in New York. Aides say they rely on a state court ruling that determined poker is considered a "game of skill" and not a legally prohibited "game of chance."

They tucked language into their budget stating: "The Senate supports authorizing and regulating internet gaming for games of skill, including poker, to reflect recent changes in the classification of these games."

To offset their additions, legislators would eliminate some of the governor's discretionary money. Some of those funds have been used for regional economic-development awards, doled out by Cuomo-appointed panels.

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The governor questioned whether all the legislative additions would result in a balanced budget. "I don't believe the numbers add up," Cuomo said.

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