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Two Dozen Arrested At Capitol As Budget Talks Continue

Karen DeWitt

  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders continue to meet behind closed doors to hash out a budget deal, while outside the governor’s offices around 25 angry protesters were arrested.

Governor Cuomo is calling legislative leaders into his office for twice a day private meetings to hash out details of the $145 billion dollar state budget.

Still under discussion, how much money the state should set aside to achieve universal pre kindergarten. The State Senate wants to fully fund New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal, but Republicans who co-lead the chamber have rejected a plan to tax the rich to get the money.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, along time pre-K offered nothing definitive.

“We’re discussing ranges,” Silver said.

There’s also likely to be some form of relief to Charter Schools.  

Governor Cuomo says only that he’s pursing “a number of strategies to protect charter schools,” but no final decisions have been made.

Governor Cuomo is placing more emphasis on his plan to freeze property taxes, which is facing widespread resistance from the legislature, local government and  school officials, and unions.  Cuomo says he sees that issue as his top priority, and he places himself as the central figure in what he calls the “greatest challenge and struggle” of the budget.

“I represent the people,” Cuomo said. “You have the people of the state versus the bureaucracy, and I’m pushing for reform of the bureaucracy.”

The governor gave little hope for enactment of the Dream Act as part of the budget, saying there’s currently a stalemate. On Monday, the State Senate voted down the measure, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to be eligible for financial aid for college.

Meanwhile protesters are not taking no for an answer on the Dream Act and other issues. Around 70 people staged a sit in and blockaded the door to the governor’s offices. Around three hundred supporters chanted “Hey governor 1%, who do you represent?”

Many of the demonstrators oppose the governor’s tax cutting plan, which also includes reductions in corporate taxes and the estate tax. They say the money would be better spent on struggling schools. Several were arrested.

Ron Deutsch, with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, says the groups believe that the state spending plan is more favorable to the  haves than to the have- nots.

“We take objection to that,” said Deutsch. “Half of the kids in our cities are living in poverty. We  have record hunger, we have record homelessness. Our schools are underfunded.”  

As the protest continued,  the governor and legislative leaders resumed their meetings, now  behind  locked doors. They say an agreement could come as early as next Monday.  

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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