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Cuomo confirms 'conceptual' budget deal, but no final signoff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices in New York City, March 24, 2021. Credit: POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/BRENDAN MCDERMID

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed Monday that he and state legislators have reached a "conceptual agreement" on a new state budget, although officials said details weren't locked down on key remaining issues, such as "excluded workers."

Cuomo, a Democrat, said the budget would expand gambling to permit mobile sports betting and expand broadband access.

On Sunday, state legislators and other officials said the agreement would include tax hikes and new tax brackets for individuals earning $1 million or more and households earning $2 million or more annually, at least $1 billion more in school aid, a public university tuition freeze and an environmental bond act on the 2022 statewide ballot.

Democrats who control the State Assembly were slated to meet Monday night to review the tentative deal with the possibility of beginning to vote on a budget as soon as Tuesday, if the tentative deal doesn’t crumble.

"We have a conceptual agreement on all the issues, I think it’s fair to say," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters.

But he noted that legislative leaders are still "working it through with their conferences."

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) didn’t immediately comment Monday. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) declined to comment.

Lawmakers were supposed to adopt the budget by April 1, the start of New York’s fiscal year.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli had warned that a state budget resolution was needed by Monday to meet the state’s next payroll, but legislative officials said they were informed the deadline is Tuesday.

The 2021-22 state budget, composed of 10 separate bills that each must be approved, is expected to top $200 billion.

Cuomo is under fire on several fronts.

His administration is under federal investigation for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and nursing homes.

State Attorney General Letitia James is investigating multiple allegations of sexual harassment leveled against the governor.

The Assembly has launched an impeachment investigation covering those matters, and others.

Cuomo denies any wrongdoing regarding the sexual harassment allegations. And he has denied the administration intentionally undercounted deaths of nursing home residents.

Lawmakers still were haggling Monday night over the final details of the mobile sports betting issue. Among them was how to allow mobile sports betting without violating the Oneida tribe’s 10-county gambling exclusivity area in Central New York.

On a related gambling issue, Cuomo indicated that lawmakers wouldn’t fully lift a moratorium on siting of new casinos downstate that extends until 2023. However, legislators will begin the process by soliciting "requests for information" from potential casino operators, Cuomo said.

Other divisive issues remained unsettled as of Monday afternoon, particularly on the issue of "excluded workers" who lost jobs in the pandemic but cannot receive federal aid benefits because they are in the country illegally.

Lawmakers were considering creation of a $2 billion state fund for such workers. But some Democrats objected to the amount of spending, as well as the lack of a mandate to verify job loss.

Sources said at least 30 of the 107 Democrats in the Assembly oppose the fund in its current iteration. Seventy-six votes are required to pass legislation in the Assembly.

At the same time, some issues that have dominated the 2021 budget debate appear to be settled — most notably, income tax hikes.

Under terms nearing finalization, New York would raise it highest income tax rates above the current 8.82% for the top tax bracket, and also create new brackets.

Rates for households with $2 million or more in annual income would rise to 9.65%; for $5 million or more, 10.3%; and for $25 million or more, 10.9%.

Corporate taxes would rise by three-fourths of percentage point to 7.25%.

However, lawmakers would discard proposals to raise taxes on capital gains and estates.

The state spending plan also includes a $1.4 billion increase in "foundation" aid, the primary funding stream for school districts.

It would earmark $120 million for prekindergarten expansion, create a modest new property-tax credit for households earning less than $250,000 annually and freeze public university tuition. Cuomo had proposed a $200 tuition hike for State University of New York campuses.

With Michael Gormley

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