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NY Budget Accord Reached, Still Filling in Details

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to a framework for a new state budget Wednesday evening,  but say they are still working out many of the details .

Governor Cuomo says he and the legislative leaders have reached an accord on many of the budget issues, and hope to be finished passing everything by Sunday.

“I’m pleased to announce  this evening that we have a budget agreement in concept,” said Cuomo, who said bills would  begin printing immediately.

The governor and the legislature agreed to a three year phase in of an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour, and a $650 million dollar tax cut package, also to be fully effective in three years. The tax breaks, targeted for businesses and the middle class, include a phase out of a  surcharge  on utilities, and the distribution of $350 dollar checks, starting next year to every family with children up to the age of 18.

Senate Co Leader Jeff Klein, the head of a break away  Democratic coalition that leads the Senate with the Republicans, is pleased with the deal.

“I think it’s probably the most family friendly budget I’ve ever seen in my years in the state legislature,” Klein said.

To help finance the tax breaks, the governor and legislature agreed to extend for three more years an income tax surcharge on millionaires, which brings in around $2 billion dollars a year. Governor Cuomo, who pledged not to raise any taxes in the budget, offered a rationale for his action. He says if you take all of the tax changes together, they represent a cut.

“Wells some taxes go up, yes, and others go down,” Cuomo said. “And the net is, they go down, that’s why it’s a tax cut.”

Business groups had been lobbying against continuing the tax on the wealthy, while unions and other advocates for the minimum wage say a three year phase in is too long for working people to wait.

Governor Cuomo, who earlier in the day had said he was holding out for agreements on a number of unrelated items, says for now, those other issues have not been agreed to, and will not be part of the budget bills.

They include decriminalizing the public possession of  small amounts of marijuana in New York City, to end a problem with New York’s Stop and Frisk laws.  

“We’ll continue those conversations, they may or may not come to fruition,” Cuomo said.

Also not resolved-  amending the state’s recently passed gun control laws  rescind a ban on the sale of 10 bullet magazines. The ten bullet clips are set to stop being sold in New York on April 15th.  

But Cuomo and legislative leaders say they may still permit the sales after all. The gun laws passed in January limit the number of bullets in a magazine to 7.  But there are loopholes that allow 10 bullets at shooting ranges and in competitions. The amendment could still impose the 7 bullet limit, but permit the purchase of the 10 bullet magazines for use at shooting ranges and in sporting contests, says Cuomo.

“The law now says you can have 10 bullets at a range or at a competition,” said Cuomo. “Otherwise, it’s 7.  And you can have a magazine that does that.”

Cuomo says he and leaders will try to reach agreements on the amendments to the gun laws and the other items before lawmakers finish passing the budget this weekend.      

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.