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Cuomo, lawmakers reach 'conceptual' budget deal

Senate Co-Leaders Democrat Jeffery D. Klein and Republican

Senate Co-Leaders Democrat Jeffery D. Klein and Republican Leader Dean G. Skelos, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (not pictured) announce a tentative deal on the New York State 2013-14 budget in Albany. (March 20, 2013) Credit: The New York Times

ALBANY -- New York lawmakers said they reached a "conceptual" deal on the state budget late Wednesday, though they quickly acknowledged they haven't settled numerous thorny issues -- including school aid, economic development money and funds for the disabled.

In a sign there is still much work to do, lawmakers deferred discussions on some non-budget policy issues that had become part of the negotiations -- most notably, marijuana laws and amendments to New York's 2-month-old gun-control law.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo earlier Wednesday signaled he would back down on one major aspect of the new law, indicating the state will continue to allow sale of 10-round ammunition clips. But he reached no formal decision with lawmakers, who said gun talks would continue over the next four days as rank-and-file members vote on the budget.

Cuomo and legislators said the budget would include many previously disclosed high-profile items -- such as a minimum-wage hike, a phaseout of a controversial utility tax and renewal of the tax surcharge on millionaire earners. It also will include a $350 "tax relief" check sent to households with incomes of $40,000 to $300,000 with children.

Overall, the 2013-14 spending plan would increase spending by less than 2 percent, to about $136 billion. That rises to $142.6 billion when federal aid for superstorm Sandy is included.

They hope to get the budget enacted by Sunday, one week before the fiscal deadline.

"We have struck a balance between the operation of government, but also tax cuts, job creation and protecting middle-class families," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Skelos noted that a particular category of education aid that is crucial to Long Island schools would be fully funded. Cuomo had proposed cutting so-called High Tax Aid by $50 million; more than 100 Island districts would have lost a combined $34 million.

But upon further questioning, lawmakers said they were still working on:

School aid. The Cuomo administration said the overall increase statewide would be about $1 billion, though a good chunk of that would be "pension stabilization" funds and not traditional aid. Traditional aid increases would top $600 million, though details weren't final.

Legislators couldn't say whether Island districts would receive 13 percent of school aid, their historic share. Cuomo proposed allotting them 12.2 percent.

Minimum wage. Lawmakers are set to raise the wage from $7.25 per hour to $8 by Jan. 1 and to $9 by the end of 2015. They are still discussing whether "tip" workers, such as waiters, will be included.

Funds for the disabled. Cuomo has proposed cutting about $120 million, or 6 percent, because the federal government reduced New York's funds after saying the state overbilled. He said the reduction would be smaller but gave no details.

Utility tax. The 18-A surcharge, imposed in 2009 after the stock market meltdown, will be phased out over three years -- beginning next year. Lawmakers said they were still working on how much it would be reduced annually.

Economic development councils. Legislators have charged that Cuomo, who appoints the councils, has too much control over the hundreds of millions of dollars allotted to the panels. Leaders said they are still working on details to increase legislators' sway.

Amendments to New York's gun control law were also in the budget discussion.

Enacted in January, just one month after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, the law limited magazine rounds to seven -- the toughest in the nation. But manufacturers don't make such magazines. The law allows the use of 10-round clips at shooting ranges. The amendment would allow the purchase of 10-round magazines although owners would be bound to load just seven -- except at target ranges and, perhaps, in their homes.

Cuomo said the change wasn't a rollback or to correct hasty legislation, but a technical correction to fix an "inconsistency" in the law. He tried to downplay criticism that the issue reflected that the gun law was enacted in haste, even though it was released publicly less than 24 hours before lawmakers voted.

"There was no haste . . . The gun bill was worked on every day for weeks and weeks and weeks," Cuomo said. "It probably was one of the most exhaustive amount of staff hours of any piece of legislation that we have done."

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