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Compromise on charter school aid seen to break state budget logjam

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks on April

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks on April 5, 2017, about the progress of the Fiscal Year 2018 State Budget in the Red Room of the Capitol in Albany. Credit: Office of the Governor / Philip Kamrass

ALBANY — A compromise on charter-school funding could end a stalemate and allow lawmakers to finally enact a state budget, nearly a week after it was due, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and several legislators said Thursday.

“I think there is a desire for everyone to get this done,” Heastie said.

He said specifically that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is on board with breaking the logjam, one day after talks abruptly collapsed even though lawmakers already had approved more than half the bills necessary to constitute a budget. Harsh words and finger-pointing ensued.

Less than 24 hours later, lawmakers seemed to be ready to be their differences aside. Cuomo put a compromise proposal on the table in a morning meeting with Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), several sources said.

“The governor wanted to get everybody to ‘yes,’” said one source.

The Republican-controlled Senate — which allowed its members to leave the State Capitol and go home Wednesday — also would have to agree to get the budget done. Flanagan was in the process of conferring with Republicans Thursday afternoon.

“Senator Flanagan met this morning with the governor and other legislative leaders, and talks centered around a potential compromise that would bring resolution to the budget,” Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said in a statement. “As a result, he is discussing the proposed changes with a number of our members. While we have had these discussions, there is no final deal.”

A Senate source said the chamber is preparing to call back members to Albany, but want to make sure the Assembly approves the bills first -- a step toward effectively locking in an agreement. But the impassse appears broken with the new charter proposal, the source said.

It was a roller coaster ride a day earlier. The two houses seemed on course to wrap up the final details. Between them, they had voted and approved 10 of about 18 bills needed to finish the budget. But talks crashed to a halt and Cuomo raised the possibility that lawmakers wouldn’t act until April 24, when they returned from a Passover/Easter break.

The budget had been due April 1. On Monday, Cuomo and legislators approved two “emergency” spending bills to meet payrolls and avoid a government shutdown through May 31. Meanwhile, they continued to talk about a full resolution.

Democrat legislators said they were prepared to accept a deal that would tie charter-school funding to annual aid increases for regular schools in exchange for ending a freeze on charter-school aid increases. The issue, a flashpoint for Democrats and Republicans alike, had been the last major issue delaying the adoption of New York’s fiscal 2017-18 budget.

Heastie stressed, however, there is no final agreement until every small detail is worked out and the Senate agrees to the new budget deal.

The Assembly planned on convening Thursday night to resume adoption of budget bills, planning to get through at least two more. Then, it would continue working through Friday, legislators said, if the agreement can be finalized.

One key senator said meetings among Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie went well Thursday and afterward there was an “eagerness” to move to a budget. One scenario had the Senate returning to Albany to vote on Friday or Saturday, if all continues to go well.

On the other major sticking point in a budget agreement, a juvenile justice issue known as “raise the age,” Heastie said, “Raise the age is fine.”

The agreement would divert the vast majority of 16- and 17-year-old accused of nonviolent crimes away from adult criminal courts in family court and in a youth court, while the most dangerous felons would still face traditional criminal courts.

The compromise “looks like it will work,” added one Democrat legislator, adding that colleagues agreed to it in a closed-door meeting.


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