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Legislature pushes back against Cuomo in budget dance

ALBANY - ALBANY -- The State Legislature Tuesday pushed back at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget proposal by rejecting or revising many of the ethics and education policies he is trying to force on lawmakers.

The Assembly's Democratic majority proposed more spending on higher education aid to make college more affordable, on housing for low-income families, and for homeless programs, and a big increase in state school aid. On Monday, they proposed a higher minimum wage for Long Island and Westchester County, as well as the higher rate for New York City proposed by Cuomo.

The Senate's Republican majority proposed a larger property tax break for more homeowners than outlined by Cuomo. The Republicans also proposed a slightly higher increase in school aid -- $1.9 billion -- than either Cuomo or Assembly Democrats.

Under the tax proposal, the average property owner would see a $458 benefit if it and the existing property tax subsidy is combined. Senate Republicans also would put the benefit in a rebate check mailed to homeowners, rather than through a tax credit in Cuomo's plan.

The Senate's $1.7 billion proposal would provide a break to 3.3 million homeowners. That's more than twice the number who would receive Cuomo's property tax break, because the Senate would eliminate Cuomo's "circuit breaker," which would aim more tax breaks to middle and lower income homeowners.

Cuomo is trying to use the extensive budget powers provided to the governor under the constitution to force his ethics package through the Legislature. It includes full disclosure of clients and the income lawmakers make in outside jobs, often with law firms that can do business with the state.

The Assembly's Democratic majority said it supports some added disclosures in the budget proposal, which is being negotiated as a federal prosecutor continues to investigate corruption in Albany. Cuomo is using his budget power to create an ultimatum for the Legislature: Pass the ethics measures or he will make the budget late, then impose the measures through emergency spending bills.

"We haven't come to a final position on ethics," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). But he added: "I am confident we will come to agreement on an ethics package."

The Assembly also would use the budget to fund a Dream Act, which would provide college aid to immigrants brought to America as children without proper documentation. The Assembly doesn't include an education tax credit that would encourage donations to private schools.

The Senate's Republican majority rejects public funding for the Dream Act, but supports the education tax credit.

Cuomo, who supports each proposal, has tried to tie them to his 30-day budget amendments. That would force the Legislature to approve his package or threaten the Tuition Assistance Program for hundreds of thousands of families.

But so far the Senate and Assembly have refused to introduce Cuomo's budget amendments. That could keep them from being negotiated or included as a package in the final budget.

The Senate proposal would also commit $150 million to create a research center connecting Hofstra University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The funding, if approved by Cuomo and the Assembly, would create a pharmaceutical research and development zone intended to create spinoff businesses and jobs similar to the experience of the high tech in North Carolina's Research Triangle, according to a statement from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

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