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New York lawmakers announce budget deal; school aid to increase by $1.6 billion

Assembly members discuss and vote on the state

Assembly members discuss and vote on the state budget on the floor of the chamber on Monday, March 31, 2014 in Albany. Photo Credit: Philip Kamrass

ALBANY -- New York lawmakers announced a budget deal Sunday night, agreeing to adopt new ethics laws, increase school aid by $1.6 billion, put the teacher evaluation process in the control of a state agency and create a panel that could raise legislator pay.

The deal came together after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dropped controversial proposals that split the State Senate and Assembly, including raising the minimum wage, enacting a property-tax credit and allowing children of immigrants in the country illegally to apply for college tuition grants.

Legislators could begin voting on the spending plan Monday. They are trying to enact a budget by midnight Tuesday, the beginning of New York's fiscal year. State officials didn't immediately give an overall spending figure but it's expected to come in at about $150 billion.

"I'm very, very happy," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who first announced the deal. "It's the largest school aid increase in seven, eight years. There are significant resources for upstate, for . . . [New York City], for Long Island."

Under the ethics law, state legislators who earn outside incomes as lawyers will have to disclose their clients, but might be able to shield others.

After some legislators said public exposure might hurt clients in sensitive matters, lawmakers agreed to allow them to petition the state Office of Court Administration to redact some clients from disclosure forms, one state official said.

Cuomo called it "real ethics reform," though it might fall short of the "total disclosure" he called for earlier this year.

The law is expected to crack down on personal use of campaign funds and per diems lawmakers collect for state travel.

"This package of reforms seriously addresses the concerns of New Yorkers, and will help build trust between the people and their government," said Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a former federal prosecutor who pushed for ethics laws.

Besides ethics, education was the other major hurdle for lawmakers. Cuomo, who has long fought with teachers unions, proposed basing 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation on students' standardized test scores. Republicans and Democrats opposed the idea and, in the end, the state Education Department will develop new evaluation protocols, Heastie said.

A Cuomo aide said the language of the budget agreement ensures that teachers' ratings will be more strongly tied to student test scores than in the past.

Cuomo pushed lawmakers to increase the number of years a teacher must work before becoming eligible for tenure from three to four. He also won a fight to allow the state to take over some underperforming schools, which union leaders fear could lead to the creation of more charter schools.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called it a "responsible budget" that "rejects tax increases" and provides assistance to every region of New York.

Though details were still emerging, lawmakers said they agreed to some Long Island incentives.

The state spending plan will include $5 million for a "Long Island nitrogen management and mitigation plan" and create a tax-free development zone at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, according to Assembly members. Cuomo had touted the idea in a speech in Farmingdale in February.

It also gives the go-ahead to study repowering the Port Jefferson power station and the E.F. Barrett power plant in Hempstead -- though it doesn't guarantee either will resume operations.

The plan extends state control of the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park and Aqueduct, for one more year. Oversight by a state panel was supposed to end this year.

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