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Lawmakers down to final few state budget issues

ALBANY -- Lawmakers said Thursday they were down to the final few state budget issues as they worked to reach agreements to partially restore cuts to programs for the developmentally disabled, begin to phase out a controversial utility tax and raise the minimum wage.

Also on the table: extending the so-called millionaires' tax.

Following the Albany maxim that no issues are settled until all are settled, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said: "I wouldn't say at this point that anything has been ruled in or that anything has been ruled out."

As they work to strike a deal, legislators said talks include possibly restoring two key cuts proposed by Cuomo. One proposal would restore about $90 million of a $120 million cut to non-profits that provide services to the developmentally disabled; Cuomo proposed the cut after federal officials reduced New York's Medicaid funding because of overbilling.

Another proposal would restore approximately $50 million in a special category of school funding called "High Tax Aid," legislators said. If not restored, Long Island districts would lose about $34 million.

In a slightly unexpected development, lawmakers are also discussing extending the millionaires' tax. Enacted in December 2011, it raised tax rates on joint filers earning more than $2 million and singles earning more than $1 million, generating $1.9 billion in state revenue. It is set to expire in 2014 - when Cuomo and all 213 legislators are up for re-election. The governor, while not directly referring to the tax, has said he wants to make some budget decisions in a two-year context.

Lawmakers also are considering phasing out a utility tax called "18-a," a temporary surcharge imposed in 2009 after the stock market meltdown. Republicans have been vocal about letting it expire this year as scheduled -- Cuomo proposed renewing it.

Though nothing was final, Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he was hopeful business-tax cuts would be included in the budget agreement.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said Thursday afternoon he thought lawmakers could strike a deal within 24 hours. Cuomo cast doubt on that during a news conference Thursday evening.

"I don't believe we're going to have a definitive agreement in 24 hours," the governor said. Though the fiscal year doesn't begin till April 1, lawmakers are hoping to enact a budget by March 21 - the last scheduled legislative day before the Passover-Easter break. To do so, they likely would have announce a deal Sunday to honor the three-day waiting period before printing and voting on legislation.

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