| ALBANY, N.Y., March 17
ALBANY, N.Y., March 17 New York state lawmakers
kicked off what looks set to be an intense two weeks of
negotiations over the state's $140 billion budget on Monday,
with clashes looming over tax cuts and education spending.
They aim to bridge significant differences in their spending
plans and pass a fourth consecutive on-time budget, something
that has not happened in nearly 40 years, but getting a deal
done before the end of the state's financial year on March 31
could be a tall order.
Both the Senate and the Assembly have advanced budgets that
propose spending more than Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat up
for re-election this year who has committed to cutting taxes by
more than $2 billion over the next three years, with $500
million of that slated for 2014-2015.
"Each house wants to have a lot more spending than the
governor," said Elizabeth Lynam, a specialist in New York's
state budget at the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent
budget watchdog. "The governor is going to have to work hard to
keep them reined in."
Senate and Assembly leaders held the first general
conference on Monday. Leaders of both houses committed to
meeting the March 31 deadline and appear intent on maintaining
the state's new-found enthusiasm for timeliness after years of
dysfunction when it came to passing a budget.
"Our members are ready to resolve the differences between
the Senate and the Assembly budget plans and work with Governor
Cuomo to enact another on-time budget," said Senator Dean
Skelos, the Republican co-leader of the Senate majority
coalition, a sentiment echoed by his Democratic partner Jeffrey
The Senate is governed by a coalition of Democrats and
Republicans while the Assembly is run by Democrats.
"Our budget resolution, adopted on Wednesday, is a $143.4
billion document which accepts or modifies much of what the
governor proposed in his exemplary budget," said Assembly leader
Sheldon Silver. He, too, voiced a commitment to deliver an
A fourth on-time budget may not sound like much, but in a
state that has passed only 14 on-time budgets in the last 40
years it is being seen as a considerable achievement. In 2010
the budget ran into July, and in other years it has been held up
even into August.
The last time the state passed four on-time budgets in a row
was from 1974 to 1977, a period spanned by two governors. The
last governor to preside over four on-time budgets in a row was
Nelson Rockefeller, who ran New York for 14 years until 1973
before going on to become vice president of the United States.
That could be a good omen for Cuomo who has long been linked
to presidential ambitions.
While Senate and Assembly leaders met, Cuomo held a news
conference boasting cross-party support from more than 150 local
elected officials for his $1 billion property tax cutting plan
that ties tax relief to local authorities consolidating
"After the success of the property tax cap, this year the
state is in a position to deliver more than $1 billion in tax
relief to millions of New Yorkers by cutting property taxes.
"In order to do that, the legislature must make property tax
relief a reality in this budget, and our local governments must
take steps to become more cost-effective," Cuomo said in
Neither the Senate nor the Assembly has fully backed that
plan. The Senate has proposed $1.4 billion to freeze property
taxes for school districts and local governments that stay
within a 2 percent tax levy cap, but has not explicitly tied the
credit to local government efficiency programs.
The Assembly is focusing on providing tax relief to home
owners and renters whose property tax bills exceed a percentage
of their income. The proposal does not require any cost cutting
or efficiency savings by local officials.
Both the Senate and the Assembly are asking for more
spending on school. The Senate's proposal increases school aid
by $811.9 million, including more than $541 million restoring
cuts, known as GAP elimination adjustment, introduced in 2009.
The Assembly is asking for over $400 million more for school aid
than provided in the executive budget.