Editorial: Stirring the budget pot in Albany

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Up in Albany, state legislators and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are stirring the pot that, by next week's deadline, is supposed to yield a completed state budget. So far, it's clear that the budget is nowhere close to being soup yet, and it's not going to contain many big, meaty chunks.

This year's menu promises mostly tidbits, although who can say what the governor, Senate Majority Co-Leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will toss in at the last moment?

Here's what's bubbling up thus far:

Universal pre-K and its funding, in the city and across the state, remains a sticking point. But those who favor a tax increase in the five boroughs to fund a strictly city program will likely lose out to Cuomo's statewide plan, as they should. The biggest question is whether districts will be forced to use any increased funding for pre-K, or be allowed to direct it toward their own priorities.

The charter school debate became a hot potato for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when he denied three charters space in public schools. Cuomo then rose to become the champion of charters, a debate that is boiling into a culture war among teachers, unions and education reformers. Charters need more support from the state.

Common Core has inspired at least four modification plans, from both chambers, the Regents and a committee formed by Cuomo. What will emerge is unclear, but here's what should happen. State support for those implementing curricula based on the standards should include more funding and better materials, the tests should be given, and the results should play a small but necessary part in evaluating kids and a small but vital part in evaluating teachers.

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Long Island's senators are in their annual fight for a larger, fairer share of the state's aid to schools, an important battle we support.

Shamefully, the Dream Act likely won't make it into the budget, days after the Senate rejected it as a stand alone measure. The budget bill offered young, undocumented immigrants wanting financial aid to attend New York's public universities their best hope.

Campaign finance reform is being whittled down to the point where if it is enacted with matching funds for candidates at all, it will likely only be for the comptroller's race. That is probably the right test run to try the system without committing to pay for every state race.

On the tax-cut front -- where Cuomo is most passionate this year -- little is settled. There is reportedly support in both parties for cutting the estate tax, phasing in over five years rates comparable to other states and exemptions on par with the federal levels. But Cuomo's push to cut the tax rate for banks to match that of other corporations, a good way to simplify a complex issue, is facing headwinds from the left. And his convoluted idea of freezing property taxes by paying for the increases in jurisdictions that stay within the cap next year via rebate checks, then doing the same the following year in jurisdictions that cut costs by consolidating, needs to be revised.

Local issues are also hostage to these Albany negotiations, with the most pivotal being school-zone speed cameras proposed for both Nassau and Suffolk. Nassau desperately needs the revenue to pay for lifting its wage freeze, and raising money by slowing down drivers in such zones during school hours is better than most ideas.

Suffolk Bus wants more money for Sunday service, and to come closer to parity with bus funding in Nassau and Westchester. That's only fair.

Jones Beach, a state and regional gem, deserves its proposed $65 million facelift.

And merging the Suffolk County park police into the county department makes financial sense.

Lawmakers head back tomorrow with a week left to negotiate. We hope they can cook up a deal that's good for taxpayers, students, and Long Island.

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