State legislative leaders hopeful budget will be on time

Mar 15, 2013

State lawmakers are hurrying toward getting a budget agreement in place, with a stepped-up schedule of conference committees and meetings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But the governor is throwing cold water on striking a deal by the weekend.

Legislative leaders, after three separate meetings with the governor said they were hopeful that a final agreement could come before the weekend.

But late Thursday, Cuomo said talks had been “inconclusive” thus far, and he said he expects negotiations to continue over Saturday and Sunday.

“You’re on the three yard line,” said Cuomo. “But what does that mean? I’ve seen a lot of teams on the three yard line that never get over the goal line. So we’ll see how it goes.  There are a lot of open issues.”

The governor says many complicated issues related to the budget are still on the table, including raising the minimum wage. Even though legislative leaders have said they do not want to include gambling expansion in the budget, Cuomo says the proposal is still being considered.  

The governor and legislative leaders agreed to divide up $550 million more in joint budget conference committees, with the largest chunk, $290 million, going to extra aid for education.  An additional $40 million was allotted to service providers for the developmentally disabled.  But supporters objected, saying that’s only one third of the $120 million dollars cut by Cuomo.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says that doesn’t mean the legislature is spending half billion dollars more than Cuomo wants. Silver, along with Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, say they have instead moved money around, but could not name the total increase in state spending.

“I can’t tell you right now,” Silver, a Democrat, said.

“We’re staying within the two percent [spending] cap,” Skelos added.

Lawmakers have not yet convinced Cuomo to agree to restore around $250 million cut to New York City schools after they failed to meet the governor’s deadline for a teacher evaluation plan.   

Meanwhile, 50 or so demonstrators advocating for an increase in the minimum wage directed their ire toward Cuomo and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, who they say aren’t doing enough to convince Republicans in the Senate to go along with a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

They chanted “Hey Klein, at least 9,” and “Hey Cuomo, the wage is too low,” outside the governor’s and Klein’s offices.

Klein, a Democrat who led a break-away faction of Democrats to join a coalition government with the Senate Republicans, has been attempting to compromise with the Senate GOP. Republicans have called a minimum wage increase a “job killer.”

Klein, a staunch supporter of raising the minimum wage, ultimately agreed to a plan to increase it gradually over a three-year period instead, without naming any specific amount.   

Klein was asked about the protesters following a budget conference committee meeting.

“I was just at my office, and I didn’t see any protesters,” Klein said.

Cuomo denies that the Senate’s coalition government is making budget talks any more difficult than usual, though he admits it was simpler when only one person led the Senate, and he says it’s meant more social events, more “cookies and coffee.”

“There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain,” Cuomo joked.