Dispute ends budget meeting

Mar 21, 2014

The next several days will be crucial ones in Albany for negotiations on the state budget. Tensions ran high at a closed-door meeting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos abruptly left the final leaders meeting before the weekend early, complaining there was too much emphasis on the needs of the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, at the expense of the rest of the state.

“It seems that certain members of the room, that represent another branch, their only concern is about New York City,” Skelos said. “We have a problem right now. Hopefully we can work it out. But we’ll see.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who emerged around half an hour later from the governor’s office, says the senator was “rather agitated,” but claimed not to know why.

“I am focused on the education of the students of this state,” Silver said. “If the senator has a problem with that, that’s unfortunate.”

A major sticking point is how much money to allow for universal pre-kindergarten. There are different estimates over how long it will take various school districts to have a program up and running, and whether all of the money will be needed by next September.  

Speaker Silver says he is still seeking what he calls a reliable funding source for schools who commit to pre-K. He says he’s open to state funding, but also still supports deBlasio’s request to raise income taxes on the wealthy. That proposal has been declared dead by Senate Republicans.

Silver then took a shot at the sometimes contradictory positions in the Senate budget, which was written by the Republicans and their co-leaders, a group of break-away Democrats. Silver called their resolution “fiction,”

Cuomo did not comment after the meeting, but said earlier that his number one item is tax cuts, including a plan to reduce business taxes. And he says he’s resisting attempts by the legislature to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the budget.  

“It’s important for us to lower taxes in the state,” said Cuomo.

Blow-ups are not unusual in the days before the final budget agreement. In fact, many at the Capitol believe the increased intensity is a sign of progress. Cuomo and lawmakers still say they are on track to finish by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.