ALBANY — An education measure that would affect few New Yorkers has become the major stumbling block to pass a $168.3 billion state budget, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Friday in an attempt to break the weeklong stalemate.
“We have worked with the Senate and the governor and have agreement on 99.9 percent of the budget,” Heastie said Friday morning in a rare critical statement so late in budget negotiations. “The Senate has dug in . . . it will be up to the Senate Republicans to shut down government.”
Holding a second news conference just minutes later, Heastie said he and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo “are on the same page” and don’t seek to resort to “extenders” or emergency spending bills to keep government operating if the problems aren’t resolved by Sunday start of the state’s new fiscal year.
Republicans countered that the main holdup is Democrats’ demand for the creation of a “pay raise commission” that would possibly grant lawmakers their first raise since 1999.
Democrats said the education issue is an effort by Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) to exempt yeshivas, private schools that serve Orthodox Jewish communities, from state education requirements that would require the schools to teach math and science “substantially equivalent” to public schools.
The Orthodox Jewish communities in the Catskills and in Rockland and Orange counties are small, but Felder is a critical player in the State Senate. He’s a conservative Democrat who allies with Republicans, who hold a razor-thin majority.
Felder left the Senate chamber at 3 p.m. during the passage of the budget to return home to observe the religious holidays. After shaking hands with every Republican senator, he left and said in an interview that negotiations continue. When asked if one result could be that his issue is dropped to allow for the budget to be adopted, he said: “It’s a possiblity.”
A spokesman for the Senate’s Republican majority has denied the Felder measure is the stumbling block in a state budget that was planned to be finished on Friday, before the Passover-Easter holy days. It’s officially due on Sunday.
The Senate Republicans said they will discuss Heastie’s stand.
“It’s just one component in the budget,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) on Friday. “Senator Felder has a lot of priorities. I respect his position as do all our colleagues.”
Flanagan said he was still preparing to pass the budget and he was meeting with his members to “finalize the list” of agreements.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) pinned the blame on Heastie and his allies, saying they were holding out for a salary hike.
“Is the Assembly willing to shut down the budget for a pay raise?” he asked midday Friday. “That’s even more outrageous.”
The Assembly and Senate stayed until around 2 a.m. Friday approving less controversial budget bills. As of midmorning Friday, the houses had completed three of the 10 necessary bills to enact the budget.
— with Jesse Coburn