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Cuomo doubts legalization of marijuana will be OK'd in budget

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers an address on

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers an address on taxes during an LIA forum at SUNY Old Westbury College in Old Westbury on Feb. 28. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that he doubts the state will approve recreational use of marijuana in the coming budget, but said it must be done before the legislative session ends in June.

“I’ve been to this show before,” said Cuomo in dealing with the first budget of his third term. “You’re two weeks from a budget … there is a wide divide on marijuana.”

He said law enforcement concerns, pricing and how much tax revenue the state and local governments can collect are among major issues to work out, which he said could be done after the budget. “We can get there and we must get there,” he said.

Cuomo also said making the local property tax cap permanent and criminal justice reform, including ending cash bail in most cases, will be among his top priorities in the budget talks.

He said he needs to get criminal justice reform in the budget, where state law provides him leverage over the Legislature.

“I don’t believe they will do it after the budget because they also have a large divide on criminal justice issues — I believe a wider divide than on marijuana,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, in an hourlong news conference, presented his lines in the sand, his threats, predictions and his negotiating strategies as he begins talks on a $175.2 billion state budget in earnest with the Legislature. The budget is due April 1.

The Senate and Assembly are scheduled to release their budget counterproposals this week. The number of closed-door negotiations between Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will then increase.

The chambers had no immediate comment on Cuomo’s presentation.

Cuomo all but assured that the budget will include a new tax. The pied-à-terre tax, French for “foot on the ground,” would assess a surcharge on apartments and condominiums worth $5 million or more and mostly owned by residents of other countries who use the apartment as a second or third home. The tax could raise $9 billion over several years, but Cuomo said he will insist it be used to help fund repairs to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Cuomo again said he will not budge on his demand to make the six-year-old cap on local tax levies permanent. He said New Yorkers and employers need the assurance of the 2 percent cap, which can only be exceeded by a supermajority vote of local government officials or by school district voters.

“You have to make the tax cap permanent, period,” Cuomo said. In response to three compromises pitched by the Legislature, Cuomo said, “No, no, no.”

Kevin Law of the Long Island Association business group predicted that without a permanent cap, Long Island property taxes that now average $10,000 a year would jump to $20,000 by 2030.

“That’s not sustainable,” he said. “We need to send a bold message.”

Cuomo also insisted that the Legislature can’t raise spending above his $175.2 billion proposal without adding revenue to pay for it. If he holds to that, it would be a rarity. In Albany, the Legislature traditionally adds about 1 percent or more to a governor’s budget.

Cuomo warned legislators that the budget faces a $3.8 billion shortfall from the current fiscal year and the next. He also agreed with economists who predict a 40 percent chance of a coming recession.

The Democratic majorities of the Senate and Assembly had projected the budget to have $900 million more in revenue than Cuomo included in his proposal on Jan. 15.

“It’s a very tight box this year,” he said.

Cuomo said a late budget would still likely cost legislators their $10,000 raises due in 2020 under a pay raise law adopted in December. That second installment of the raise is leverage to force action on legislators who are in the midst of receiving their first pay raise in 20 years.

“Being right is more important than anything else this year,” Cuomo said.

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