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Despite Agreement, New York State Budget Talks Go On

The State Capitol Building, Downtown Albany
..::WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas::..
The State Capitol Building, Downtown Albany

Even though state lawmakers announced a budget agreement Wednesday, they spent the day Thursday trying to pin down details and print the bills in time to be through over the weekend.

One day after the budget agreement announcement, legislative leaders were once again huddling behind closed door with Governor Cuomo to talk about-

“Budget issues,” said Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, emerging from a leader’s meeting.

“Our discussions have been about the budget,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, after that same meeting.

The leaders said they might not even have all of the bills printed by the end of the day, because so many issues are unresolved.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was asked why the agreement was announced, when so many spending issues are undecided, and whether the news of a budget deal was premature.   He answered that the announcement of a budget framework is “traditional” in Albany. 

“We’ve worked out the parameters of it,” said Silver. “People are sitting and drafting bills.”

Among the dozens of details that were still being worked out, is how to restore $120 million dollars in cuts to service providers for the developmentally disabled. The state, after initially being denied $500 million dollars in Medicaid reimbursements because of past overbilling errors, now has received an equivalent amount back. But it can’t all be used simply to replace cuts to the service providers. Speaker Silver says by shifting parts of the health care budget around, about half of the money can be restored.

“There will be a commitment to reduce overhead and fraud,” said Silver. “Hopefully the services to the individuals will not be effected.” 

Even some of the items that have already been announced as agreements are still short on details. For instance, it’s not yet determined what types of businesses will actually receive the $300 million dollars allotted for various tax breaks. And there’s still no agreement yet whether to include workers who get tips, like wait servers, in the plan for a three year phase in of increases to the state’s minimum wage.

Meanwhile, aspects of the tax package are coming under fire. The income tax surcharge on millionaires is being extended for at least two more years to pay for the tax package. Business groups say that sends the wrong message to the state’s job creators.  And a group that advocates for the poor is criticizing the plan to distribute $350 rebate checks to families with children under the age of 18 who make between $40,000 and $300,000 a year. The checks would go out in 2014, before the November elections when lawmakers face the ballot box.

Ron Deutsch, with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, says those making $38,000 a year, as well as seniors, get left out. 

“This is pretty clear case of election year pandering,” Deutsch said.

Despite the numerous unresolved budget issues, lawmakers insist they are still on track to pass bills over the weekend. But they concede they might have to stay as long as Monday to finish everything up.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.