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Legislature readies to pass on-time state budget

Budget documents are piled on desks in the

Budget documents are piled on desks in the Assembly chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014. Credit: Philip Kamrass

ALBANY - New York's Legislature prepared to make modern political history Monday by passing a fourth straight on-time budget filled with tax breaks, more school aid and an easing of the Common Core program that has vexed some parents and teachers.

But for the $137.9 billion budget to be adopted on time by Monday's midnight deadline, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will have to issue a message of necessity.

That's because Cuomo and legislative leaders failed to agree on and start printing some of the lengthy budget bills until early Saturday. They missed the Friday midnight deadline to provide three days' public review of bills required by the state constitution. The governor's order, reserved for emergencies, would suspend that provision.

Cuomo and good-government groups have long criticized using emergency orders to meet a budget deadline, but passing on-time budgets has become a major issue in campaigning for Cuomo and lawmakers over the past four years.

"A three-day period is to ensure that lawmakers -- and the public -- have an opportunity to review complex legislative decisions," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Unless there is a real emergency, the governor should ensure that three-day review. In Albany, speed can lead to big mistakes."

The budget increases state spending 1.89 percent and increases state school aid by 5.3 percent. That $1.1 billion increase in school aid is higher than in several years, but still falls short of what advocates said was needed to dig out from cutbacks forced during the recession.

The state budget deal includes a property tax rebate that will provide taxpayers a check equal to as much as a 2 percent increase in local property taxes for the next two years. However, before local residents get their checks, school districts and local governments must increase spending no more than 2 percent each year and submit plans to cut spending by at least 1 percent a year for the following three years.

The budget deal also prohibits scores from standardized tests aligned to the higher standards of the new Common Core to be used in student promotion, although the scores will still be used in evaluating teachers.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called it a budget that provides "additional property tax relief to hardworking taxpayers, reduces costs for businesses so they can create new jobs and gives students the tools they need."

Senate Education Committee chairman John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the deal achieves "high standards without hurting kids."

They were getting few arguments as the legislature returned to Albany Sunday. That's important because the Senate's Democratic minority and Assembly's Republican minority will get their chance Monday in floor debates to contest at length every element of the budget deal if they choose.

Before former Gov. David Paterson in 2010 discovered an overlooked power of the governor under state law to impose his or her budget if the deadline is passed, most state budgets in the previous 20 years were late.

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