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State budget talks stumble as deadline nears

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, with Sen. Andrew Lanza

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, with Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), left, and Louann Ciccone, program and policy secretary for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, as they leave his office after a budget meeting at the Capitol in Albany on Thursday. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators struggled on Thursday to negotiate a nearly $170 billion budget as several issues hindered a resolution as they try to approve the massive spending plan before the Passover-Easter break.

“We keep going over the same issues,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said at the beginning of the day only to see his prediction of a deal pass without agreement.

By late Thursday night, the Legislature was passing two of the least controversial budget bills while negotiations continued on major bills that would include school aid that might get a vote on Friday.

Some agreements that were resolved for the budget, which is due Sunday, trickled out between closed-door meetings and negotiations.

Among them is that school aid will increase by a little over $1 billion, or about 4 percent, according to Sen. John Bonacic (R-Delhi).

Only one of many gun-control measures proposed by the Assembly’s Democratic majority and Cuomo remained under discussion Thursday after a string of school shootings nationwide. Bonacic said the Assembly’s Democratic majority blocked the Senate Republicans’ school safety measures, which included mandatory active-shooter drills and more police in schools.

Only Cuomo’s proposal to remove guns from abusers in domestic violence cases remains under discussion, said Bonacic and Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).

“We are concerned about the safety of the children,” Bonacic said. “But I think the other party wants the issue of gun control . . . they are sacrificing the safety of our children.”

There was no immediate comment from the Assembly’s majority Democrats or Cuomo, who had proposed several gun-control measures including the banning of “bump stocks” that can allow a rifle to shoot bullets as fast as an assault rifle.

Cuomo and legislative leaders said they expect the budget to include a wide-ranging bill to combat sexual harassment and protect victims while banning taxpayer-paid settlements in government cases. But other high-profile proposals, such as ending cash bail, extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims and establishing an “early voting” period to boost turnout fell off the table as the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats clashed over ideological differences this election year.

On fiscal issues, Sen. James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) said Senate Republicans have blocked all of Cuomo’s $1 billion in added taxes and fees. “All the taxes are off.”

The senators also said Cuomo’s proposals to offer taxpayers ways to mitigate the impact of a new federal tax bill continues to be discussed. The tax package by the Republican Congress and President Donald Trump caps the deductibility of state and local taxes at $10,000.

Cuomo’s proposal would allow employers to pay a voluntary payroll tax so workers could still effectively deduct the cost of state taxes on their federal tax returns. Taxpayers who pay more than $10,000 in local taxes and itemize more than $24,000 in federal deductions would benefit from the proposal.

Cuomo is also still fighting for a provision that would allow school districts to establish a charitable fund that residents could pay into in lieu of property taxes. The Internal Revenue Service, however, is casting doubt on the legality of such proposals.

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