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New York state budget deadline nears; 6 things to watch

Gov. Andrew A. Cuomo has pushed for a

Gov. Andrew A. Cuomo has pushed for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, raising public university tuition and a paid family leave program in his spending plan. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desire to stay within a spending cap, hike public university tuition and force New York City to pick up costs of certain programs will be at odds with the State Legislature’s promise to boost school and transportation spending and freeze college tuition as lawmakers barrel toward the April 1 budget deadline.

The start of the fiscal year is less than two weeks away, yet the governor and the State Legislature have made little tangible progress toward settling what’s likely to be a spending plan of $154 billion or more for fiscal 2016-17. In Albany time, two weeks are plenty to finish negotiations. But clearly there are significant issues to resolve.

Here are six things to watch for:

What will Cuomo have to do to stay within a self-imposed 2 percent cap on spending increases?

The Democratic governor, in his sixth year in office, proposed a $154.5 billion spending plan, which includes $9 billion in extraordinary federal aid that is designated for health care and superstorm Sandy recovery. Cuomo said his proposal would boost state operations spending 1.7 percent — keeping within a 2 percent cap that is imposed on school districts and local governments.

But to stay within the limit, Cuomo has proposed some measures that haven’t gone over well with other lawmakers — especially regarding elementary and secondary school spending, college tuition and cuts in aid to New York City. Cuomo has placed a lot of importance on staying within the cap. To do so, he will have to bargain down legislators or find ways to shift some costs off-budget or into future years.

How much will education aid increase and what programs will be earmarked?

Cuomo has proposed boosting K-12 spending by $961 million; the Republican-led Senate has proposed $1.65 billion and the Democrat-controlled Assembly, $2.1 billion. Besides the amounts, the three differ in how to channel the money.

The Senate and Assembly want to fully restore money that was taken from school districts after the 2008 stock market meltdown. The lost money, known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment or GEA, has been restored in bits and pieces, but $434 million is still outstanding — $117 million of it for Long Island schools. Cuomo has proposed earmarking $189 million for the GEA.

Similarly, the Assembly and Senate want to boost a type of general school aid called “Foundation Aid” by hundreds of millions of dollars more than Cuomo does. Foundation Aid generally helps needy schools more than wealthy ones. GEA restoration would help suburban and rural schools more than urban ones.

Other flashpoints include prekindergarten (the Assembly is the lone entity calling for an expansion for 4-year-olds) and charter schools (Cuomo and the Senate want to boost aid).

Will State University of New York tuition be increased $300 annually for the next five years, resulting in about a 30 percent rise?

Cuomo and the SUNY Board of Trustees want to renew this policy, initiated in 2011. They say it ends the “irrational” cycle of years of no increases followed by a huge hike, and makes spending predictable for students and families. The Senate and Assembly say the 2011 initiative was approved when state revenues were lagging and a tuition hike isn’t necessary right now.

Will New York City be forced to absorb a $1 billion reduction in state aid, primarily through Medicaid and the City University of New York system?

Cuomo proposed the cuts, which drew blowback from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Assembly. Cuomo since has said the cuts would be achieved through administrative reductions and that the changes wouldn’t cost the city anything. Yet there have been no details about how that would work. Assembly members have sounded adamant about fighting the cost shifts.

Will Cuomo dig in his heels about getting a minimum-wage hike as part of the budget deal?

Cuomo has spent a lot of time promoting a $15-per-hour minimum wage and a paid family leave program. The latter hasn’t faced any strong opposition. But the Senate, along with small business groups, farmers and social services providers, are opposed to such a steep wage hike.

(The state approved a minimum-wage hike just three years ago; it is currently $9 per hour. Cuomo wants it to hit $15 per hour by 2021 in communities outside of New York City. He wants to be the first governor nationwide to hit that mark.)

The budget provides Cuomo with his best leverage for forcing the Senate to approve his proposal, but it also might risk blowing past the deadline. Given that he has put so much emphasis on $15/hour, it’s unclear if he would settle for less.

Will ethics be addressed, given the corruption convictions last year of the leaders of both houses?

Highly unlikely. Officials have said they can wait until the second half of the legislative session (which runs until June 16) and, besides, no amount of laws can eliminate corruption altogether.

State & Region