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Legislature busts stalemate, prepares to pass late NY budget

Assemb. Jose Rivera (D-Bronx)  waits during negotiations on

Assemb. Jose Rivera (D-Bronx)  waits during negotiations on the state budget at the state Capitol in Albany on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY

In an abrupt turnaround Tuesday after sometimes chaotic, marathon negotiations, the state Senate and Assembly prepared with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to pass a state budget nearly a week after it was due.

The state Senate began voting on some of the less controversial budget bills at 9 p.m. — setting in motion the lengthy process to approve eight or more bills to enact a roughly $162 billion spending plan.

The action also signaled an apparent end to a festering impasse that forced lawmakers to approve two emergency spending bills Monday to avoid a government shutdown. The budget had been due last Friday.

“There’s an agreement,” said Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), one of the few elected officials to talk about the deal. In a sign of the distrust sparked by the standoff, neither Cuomo nor either legislative leader issued a statement marking its possible end.

Earlier in the day amid the gamesmanship, the Democrat said “there’s no great rush at this point to get anything done” because stopgap measures had been taken.

Acting on budget bills marked a change for the Senate where the day began with some members considering leaving Albany ahead of the Passover-Easter break that is scheduled to begin Thursday and run until April 23.

Though not all the bills have been printed — which is the step in which all the crucial details of lawmakers’ compromises are locked in — officials disclosed general terms of some of the agreements.

The “millionaires’ tax,” set to expire Dec. 31, would be extended two more years under the deal, several legislators said. Republicans wanted to kill the income-tax surcharge levied on those who earn $1 million or more annually. Democrats wanted to raise the tax rate and make the surcharge permanent. The surcharge on million-dollar earners brings the state more than $2 billion a year in revenue and is a key to Cuomo’s sprawling infrastructure plans.

Funding for elementary and secondary public schools would increase by $1.1 billion (4 percent), or $1 million more than Cuomo proposed.

One of the bills that had been printed authorized a Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 that would spend about $2.5 billion to address long-standing issues statewide, including crumbling water pipes and septic threats to drinking water and commercial fishing in Long Island Sound.

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said the state would pay half or as much as $10,000 to homeowners to replace septic systems, many of which are in Suffolk County.

Lawmakers also were eyeing a compromise on Cuomo’s pathway to “free tuition” at state colleges for students whose families earn $125,000 or less annually. Instead of a combination of grants and federal aid covering the entire $6,470 in tuition, students would be covered up to $5,500, two legislators said. But a Cuomo administration official said a plan would be worked out to cover the full tuition. Further, tuition assistance for students attending private colleges would be raised.

Another key component is a measure to authorize ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft throughout New York, a source said — though counties with populations greater than 100,000 could say no.

A compromise on the issue of raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 also should be part of the budget deal, said Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). It would allow some arrested for nonviolent offenses to be handled in Family Court rather than criminal court.

The cap on creating more charter schools wouldn’t be lifted under the plan as the Senate’s Republican majority and Cuomo wanted. But a compromise would include making “zombie charters” from schools that failed and closed available for use again by a new private entity.

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