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New York State Assembly Holds Final Budget Votes

New York State Capitol

The state legislature is almost finished voting on a $141.3b state budget. Final passage is occurring one week past lawmakers’ s self imposed deadline, but three days before  the spending plan was due to be finished. The budget includes a tax and revenue package that also phases in an increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015.  The tax cuts and increases includes $300 million dollars in tax cuts for small businesses, and a $350 rebate check to New York families with children under the age of 17. The rebate checks will total $1.2 billion dollars over the next three years.  A tax on millionaires and a surcharge on electric utilities will be extended.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says it’s a budget he can be “proud” of, and called the minimum wage increase is a “very significant victory”, though he says he’d have liked to enact the entire increase at once.

Republicans, who hold about one third of the seats in the Assembly, to the Democrat’s two thirds majority, pointed out what they see as flaws in the tax package.  Assemblyman Bob Oaks, of Central and Western New York, speaking on the Assembly floor, says the budget “picks winners and losers”.
“We select certain people to receive a $350 child credit, but we ignore the young, struggling, childless married couple saving to buy their first home and waiting to have their first child,” Oaks said. “We also forget seniors on fixed incomes who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.”
Opponents of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts to services for the developmentally disabled, say its disabled people who were among those who lost out in the budget.
Governor Cuomo proposed cutting $120 million dollars to not for profit service providers. The federal government determined New York had been overbilling for state run developmentally disabled centers, and reduced New York’s Medicaid allotment by $500 million dollars .   
Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to restore $30 million dollars, or around one fourth of the cuts.  
Assemblymembers from both parties with disabled children and relatives vowed to fight on for full restoration.   Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Island Democrat who has a disabled son, called out Governor Andrew  Cuomo, who negotiated the budget with the legislature, and recounted how the governor’s own mother has been an advocate for the developmentally disabled.
“I don’t know anybody that’s an elected official with a heart who would do this,” said an emotional Weisenberg.  
Assemblyman Michael Kearns, also a Democrat, from the Buffalo area,   has a brother who is developmentally disabled. He recounted how then- Governor Nelson Rockefeller visited his brother and others at the center where he lived, and even went swimming with the children. Assemblyman Kearns says the money is there in the budget to pay for the programs, it’s just that it’s been used for other things, like the $350 rebate checks.
“Every person in the state of New York, take that $350 , and sign it over to a not for profit,” Kearns urged.
The budget sets up a task force to try to use the $30 million in restorations, as well as other federal Medicaid monies to try to mitigate some of the effects of the reductions.
Governor Cuomo, who has argued that more money to the service providers is not the answer, has said he believes the cuts can be made up by cutting salaries of administrators at the not for profits, as well as other unnecessary expenses.
“Many of these overheads, I’m telling you, can be reduced,” Cuomo said earlier this month. “Many of the salaries are exorbitant. The corporate expenses are exorbitant, and that’s where we believe the reductions should be borne.”

Assembly Republicans offered an amendment to restore the money, but even some of the Democrats decrying the cuts did not vote for it, saying it had no chance of passage.

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.
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