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Gun law push looms large in state budget talks

Members of the State Senate work in the

Members of the State Senate work in the Senate Chamber as the legislative session winds down at the Capitol in Albany. (June 20, 2012) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- A last-minute push to amend New York's new, controversial gun-control law emerged as one of the last sticking points as lawmakers try to nail down a state budget. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators are discussing changing the law to allow the sale of 10-round ammunition clips, though still limiting owners to loading a maximum of seven at a time.

As more details of budget talks came to light, legislators said any deal is expected to include a provision to send a $350 "family tax relief" check to households, whose incomes fall between $40,000 and $300,000, with children. The checks wouldn't be distributed till sometime in mid-2014.

Several other non-budgetary items, such as marijuana, hospitals and prescriptions, also have crept into discussions as talks dragged on. Lawmakers entered the week thinking they would finish by Thursday, which is now impossible.

Some aspects of the budget are nearly final, including a minimum-wage hike, a renewal of the so-called millionaires' tax before it expires in 2014 and an array of business-tax cuts.

Legislators said Cuomo raised the gun-law issue just days ago, a late wrinkle in the talks.

Enacted in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, some of its provisions kick in on April 15 -- including one that prohibits loading more than seven rounds of ammunition in a magazine, down from 10 under the previous law. Some lawmakers, noting that manufacturers don't make seven-round clips, have called for changing the magazine provision to allow the purchase of 10-round clips and to permit owners to load 10 rounds if the gun is kept at home. Some noted the law permits gun owners to load 10 rounds at a shooting range but not at home.

They've also advocated amending other sections to exempt active and retired law-enforcement personnel.

But lawmakers are set to adjourn next week for the Passover-Easter break -- and will not return till April 15, so they would have to make changes this week, legislators said.

"We have to deal with it by April 15, when some of those provisions kick in. So this is the time," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said.

Cuomo said he didn't want to go back to a 10-round limit, but wanted to address an "inconsistency" in the gun law.

"We've talked about making technical corrections to the bill . . . but they're basically technical corrections for consistency," said the governor, a Democrat. "I don't know if anything comes of them or not."

Republicans, who have pushed for an array of tax cuts, said one provision would provide a $350 check to every household that has children age 18 and under and income between $40,000 and $300,000. Silver said the rebates would total roughly $150 million, meaning they would go to more than 400,000 households.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said the $350 rebate "helps families." Lawmakers said they are also dealing with some nonmonetary items, such as a Democrat-backed idea to ease laws governing possession of marijuana in "public view" and criminalize synthetic marijuana.

"We will enact something of that nature. We've been talking about that -- bath salts as well," Silver said. "There are a couple of thoughts on the table."

Many other outstanding items are nearing resolution. Leaders indicated they are virtually agreed to raising the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 in a series of steps by the end of 2015.They are also discussing renewing the income-tax surcharge that applies higher rates to singles earning more than $1 million annually and joint filers earning $2 million or more. The tax isn't set to expire till 2014 -- an election year. Skelos said there was a "good possibility" a renewal of the tax would be included in the budget.

Republicans have said the package will include a range of tax cuts, including greater tax credits for child care and a possible phaseout of a utility tax, known as 18-A, imposed in 2009 after the stock market meltdown.

But most of the tax cuts won't become effective this year, Silver said. Instead, they would be phased in over time.


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