Assembly and Senate pass different spending plans; negotiations underway

By Tom Momberg

The state Senate and the Assembly each passed one-house budget resolutions last week, but the governor said he won’t sign a spending plan just yet.

Each resolution projected an increase from the executive budget proposed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Opportunity Agenda” in January, but seeks to eliminate several of the policy proposals set forth by the governor, even as they move into negotiations.

The two resolutions have stark contrasts, but legislators have said they expect compromise to be made and the April 1 budget deadline to be met.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he is confident everything will fall into place, but the policy proposals that Cuomo has held onto will have to be picked apart in order for compromise to happen.

“In January, everyone seemed to be very pessimistic, but there is certainly a level of negotiation that will take place in the next two weeks. Both houses now seem to be optimistic we’ll meet the budget deadline,” he said.

Avella announced several programs and additional funding included in the Senate budget that are aimed at helping students, seniors and middle-class families, including the senator’s Green Buildings Tax Credit bill.

Avella also said he was pushing for an increase in income eligibility for the Tuition Assistance Program to $100,000 a year; a $250,000 expansion of the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program; and a senior utility circuit breaker program to provide utility tax credits for eligible senior citizens.

“As we finalize this year’s state budget, I am committed to ensuring that these measures remain among my top priorities,” Avella said.

When it comes to talks on education, in which both the Senate and the Assembly are opposing Cuomo’s policy proposals, Avella said he recognizes one of the greatest concerns is having an outside organization known as a receiver take over the city’s failing schools. This is more about politics than it is about education, he said.

“I think the bottom line is, what can we do about our failing schools? The way the proposal is mentioned, and what I think many teachers are most concerned about, is that the receiver might have the ability to eliminate or curb collective bargaining,” Avella said.

It was apparent in the public hearing of the Joint Budget Legislative Conference Committee on Education Monday that legislators were listening to these concerns. Cuomo said he hears these concerns as legislative talks continue, but has not indicated whether he will drop the main points of his proposed education policy reforms.

Avella agreed that policy should be kept out of budget negotiations.

“I have always felt the need for cooperation between the state, City Council and the stakeholders; We should all sit down and go over education policy, because we all want the same thing: We all want our children to succeed.”

The new fiscal year starts April 1, and Cuomo has in past years always delivered the budget on time. The ultimatum the governor has given to legislators, however, is not over his proposed policies, but in his request for an overhaul of New York government ethics. This comes just after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest on federal corruption charges in January.

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