Lawmakers Nearing Budget Deal in Albany

12:37 PM, Mar 19, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell

Albany Bureau

ALBANY, NY -- Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday appeared to be closing in on a deal for New York's 2013-14 budget that includes increasing the minimum wage over three years and provides $700 million in tax breaks for businesses and families.

Legislative leaders met several times over the past two days with the Democratic governor in his second-floor offices and had indicated they were working toward a late Monday agreement on a $136 billion spending plan. But by Monday evening, the lawmakers signaled a deal would have to wait until Tuesday at the earliest.

Negotiations among staff at the Capitol were expected to continue late into Monday night, while top lawmakers in the Legislature are set to next meet with Cuomo Tuesday morning.

"We're going through different issues and looking to close it down," Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said Monday.

The pieces of a potential budget agreement started to come into focus late in the day, though lawmakers cautioned that no final deal had been struck. Skelos said a deal would eventually include about $700 million in tax breaks for businesses and families, though he said the specifics were still being hashed out.

The sides were nearing a deal to increase the minimum wage over three years -- to $8 an hour in 2014, $8.75 in 2015 and $9 in 2016 -- and extend higher income-tax rates on millionaires past 2014, when they are set to expire.

"Realistically, if we can get a minimum wage that ends at $9 in two years, I think we have done a tremendous service," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who had been pushing for tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

Cuomo and lawmakers have been trying to reach a compromise on raising the state's $7.25 hourly minimum wage after Democrats sought to increase it to $9 an hour starting in January. Cuomo did not address the media Monday.

Some lawmakers said they would be disappointed if the minimum-wage increase wasn't increased to $9 in one shot, saying poor families need it. The Fiscal Policy Institute and the National Employment Law Project, labor-backed groups, said the difference in the phased-in options versus an immediate jump to $9 in January would mean $1.2 billion in lower wages over five years for low-income New Yorkers.

"I think we need to do this immediately," said Assemblyman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, Rockland County. "There are so many families and single moms who are struggling, and I believe this would help the local economy."

Republican lawmakers and business groups have sought to beat back the minimum-wage increase. Republicans have joint control over the Senate with a group of Democrats. The Democratic-led Assembly earlier this month passed increasing the minimum wage to $9.

"Small business, especially those in upstate New York, cannot afford a mandated increase in labor costs," said Michael Durant, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, in a statement earlier this month.

Lawmakers are scheduled to start a two-week spring break on Friday and are hoping to pass all of the budget bills before then. The state's budget deadline is March 31 -- Easter Sunday -- and Passover is set to begin Monday.

Senate Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said the entire budget is still being negotiated and nothing is final. Klein has supported including a minimum wage hike as part of the spending plan.

"Minimum wage is still being discussed," Klein said. "Small business tax credits are still being discussed and I think we're moving in a positive direction."

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