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Cuomo: Budget likely to include higher minimum wage, no SUNY tuition hike

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) walks through the

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) walks through the Assembly Chamber after leaving Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office at the Capitol on Monday, March 28, 2016, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that a state budget is expected to avoid a tuition increase for the State University of New York and include a phased-in minimum wage increase, paid family leave and a tax break for middle-class New Yorkers and businesses.

“We all agree there will be a minimum-wage increase,” Cuomo told reporters. “We are now discussing how much, by when, and where.”

The latest version of a proposed minimum-wage hike from the current $9 an hour to $15 had a three-tiered phase-in, with New York City hitting the $15-per-hour mark first in three years, Long Island and Westchester County after six, and upstate after about eight years, according to rank-and-file legislators.

But after at least two closed-door negotiating sessions, agreement remained elusive.

Cuomo wouldn’t answer when asked specifically if some parts of the state — such as lower-cost and more economically fragile upstate — could have a final wage lower than $15.

“We’re talking wages and phases and I don’t want to announce anything until we lock everything in,” Cuomo said when asked repeatedly if $15 is still the goal statewide.

The Senate’s Republican majority has opposed the proposal as a job killer. “We’re having ongoing discussions on that,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “There is no final resolution.”

Earlier Tuesday, Flanagan said he was confident of a budget deal by “the end of the day,” but no final deal was announced Tuesday night.

Cuomo and legislators missed the Monday night midnight deadline to pass the $154 billion budget on time without special orders called “messages of necessity.” They suspend the constitutional requirement of three days’ public review of bills before they are voted on. The budget is due by midnight Thursday.

Cuomo also said the paid family leave would be phased in over years, to provide workers 12 weeks of partial compensation to care for a sick relative or newborn. He said there would be no exemption for either an increase in the minimum wage or for paid family leave.

“I think we’re in a good place,” said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, who has sponsored the paid family leave bill for years. “I think we’re going to have the best budget in memory.”

Cuomo said he doesn’t expect an increase in SUNY tuition in the budget after five straight years of increases.

“They are OK this year because they just had five years of tuition increases,” Cuomo said.

A major sticking point continued Tuesday over whether Cuomo would rescind his plan to make New York City pay for more of its Medicaid bill.

Cuomo continued to defend the need to make the city pay for more to provide an incentive to cut waste and fraud. Albany has for years fully covered annual increases in Medicaid costs.

“You are basically writing checks on the state’s account,” Cuomo said. His point would apply to all counties, but Cuomo said he’s focusing on New York — where he has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio — because New York City is 70 percent of the state Medicaid program.

That clearly rankled Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). “I’ve been clear from day one: Until Medicaid is resolved, it is very difficult for us to come to a budget resolution,” he said.

“We’re still concerned with having the city, in a punitive way, having to cover this $250 million,” Heastie said.

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