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New York State budget passed by Senate, Assembly

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), right, walks to

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), right, walks to a meeting with aide Blake Washington at the state Capitol on Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Albany. Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY — It took an all-nighter, a momentary standoff and an extra day, but the State Legislature gave final approval to New York’s new state budget Friday.

Lawmakers stamped a $156 billion spending plan that boosts state spending 2 percent and education spending 6 percent; cuts tax rates for most families earning $300,000 or less annually; and freezes tuition at the State University of New York. Tucked into the budget was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s main priority this year: a provision to hike the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour downstate.

The Republican-led Senate completed its final vote around 9:30 a.m. — after a 17-hour session that featured last-minute wrangling over the minimum wage. The Democrat-controlled Assembly broke its all-nighter at 5 a.m., returned at 3 p.m. and finished at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s tough votes when you get a ‘big ugly’ and it certainly is a ‘big ugly,’ ” Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said, using the Albany term for combining a hodgepodge of unrelated policies such as minimum wage and school aid in one bill to pressure lawmakers to support the package.

“It’s very difficult to balance whether the good outweighs the bad, and we all decided as a unit the good outweighed the bad,” DeFrancisco said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), negotiating his second budget since become house leader, said the spending plan fulfilled much of the Democrats’ agenda.

“I think this is exactly the type of budget that Assembly Democrats dream about,” Heastie said. He cited the budget’s progressive measures including minimum wage, paid family leave act, stopping a Medicaid cost shift of $250 million in New York City, as well as stopping a tuition increase in public colleges as major objectives.

Many lawmakers decried the process — thousands of pages of budget bills, containing an extraordinary number of line-item spending details and complicated policy changes, were handed to rank-and-file members with just a few hours to study before casting a vote.

“We are not supposed to be a rubber stamp for the executive,” Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) said, referring to the governor. “This process just has got to change.”

The minimum-wage legislation will raise the wage — currently $9 per hour — in a series of steps to $15 per hour downstate, reaching that rate on Long Island by Dec. 31, 2021. It will become effective in New York City on Dec. 31, 2018.

Upstate, the wage would eventually reach $12.50 per hour on Dec. 31, 2020, but then would be indexed and reviewed before possible increases with the goal of eventually reaching $15 per hour, lawmakers said.

Senate Republicans, many of whom opposed the steepness of the raise, had to hold a lengthy closed door conference just after dawn Friday to cajole members to stick together and vote unanimously for the package.

Cuomo, a Democrat, called the three-tiered minimum-wage plan the “smartest, safest way to go about it, in my opinion.”

Unions praised the wage hike. One liberal group said it shortchanged upstate workers. Business groups denounced it. The New York Farm Bureau said its Long Island members would be hurt the most.

Some other Long Island initiatives set to be approved Friday included: $150 million for “extreme weather hardening” of the Nassau Expressway; $22 million to expand the football stadium at Stony Brook University; and $500,000 for golf course improvements at Bethpage State Park.

The budget also created a “paid family leave” program that begins in 2018.

Heastie said he reluctantly accepted an increase in tuition at the State University of New York and City University of New York for out-of-state students because the budget needed the revenue. Those students already pay a higher tuition than New York residents. Heastie said, however, a priority was the blocking a sixth straight tuition increase for New York residents at public colleges.

“We want to make sure college is affordable because it’s getting very expensive for residents of New York,” said Heastie, 48, a graduate of SUNY’s Stony Brook University. “I’m still paying my undergraduate student loan. . . . We don’t want to see college become unaffordable.”

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