* State Senate passes budget in predawn session
* Assembly aims to conclude on Thursday
* State's fiscal year starts April 1
By Cheryl Clark
ALBANY, New York, March 27 It took New York's
state Senate two days and a marathon seven-hour "vampire"
session that ended two hours before dawn on Wednesday to pass
the state's $135 billion budget. Now the Assembly wants to do
the same amount of work in a day as it aims to produce New
York's third on-time budget in a row.
Starting the state's 2013-2014 fiscal year without a
functioning budget on April 1 is not going to bring the trains
to a grinding halt but getting it in on time is an important
goal for lawmakers who are eager to show that years of
dysfunction in the state capital Albany are a thing of the past.
State governor Andrew Cuomo inked a deal with lawmakers a
week ago after days of closed door wrangling. His aim was to get
the Senate and the Assembly to sign off on it last weekend in
what he was touting as the earliest budget since 1976. But
delays in printing bills and then religious holidays this week
have turned it into another race against the clock.
Still, the Assembly seems confident it can pass the 10
separate bills that make up the budget when it reconvenes on
Thursday, although it may turn into another marathon session.
The state Assembly recessed before the weekend for Palm Sunday
and the Jewish Passover holiday. Lawmakers will be out again for
Good Friday at the end of the week.
"Our plan is to pass the budget on Thursday," said Michael
Whyland, the spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The Senate ended its session at 4.32 a.m. on Wednesday
morning. Senator Terry Gipson referred repeatedly to a bill he
is sponsoring that would ban "vampire voting" between 9 p.m. and
As a package, the budget adheres to a self-imposed 2 percent
cap on increased spending, raises the minimum wage incrementally
to $9 an hour by the end of 2015; extends higher tax rates for
millionaires and lower rates for the middle class that were to
expire next year.
It also increases state funding for schools by $1 billion
and creates a tax rebate program that will deliver $350 checks
to a million middle-income families with children right before
state elections in 2014.
Elizabeth Lynam, who follows New York's budget process for
the Citizens Budget Commission, a budget watchdog, said she
expects the Assembly to pass the budget on Thursday, even if it
does go down to the wire.
"The late budget had become such a symbol of dysfunction
that they got very sensitized to it, so it's important in terms
of showing that there's a functional process," said Lynam.
Lynam recalls more than a decade of late budgets that often
dragged on well into August. In 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks on
New York interrupted the process and meant the state went
without a budget for the whole year, she said.