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Budget Talks Continue in Albany... So Why Aren't Your Lawmakers There?

7:30 PM, Mar 15, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Courtesy AP

By Joseph Spector

Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers are expecting to work through the weekend to get a budget deal earlier next week, eying plans to extend taxes on the wealthy and provide additional breaks to the middle class.

The Legislature broke for the weekend Thursday, but staff for the sides was planning to continue negotiations in hopes of having a budget approved by March 21 - before a legislative spring recess.

WEB EXTRA: Watch the video player above to see 2 On Your Side's Dave McKinley ask state legislators why they're not in Albany taking part in budget discussions

The state's 2013-14 fiscal year starts April 1.

"Everything has been positive. The conversations have been positive," Cuomo told reporters Thursday evening. "Many issues on the table, many options on the table, and we've been working them through and talking them through. But again -- inconclusive at this point."

Cuomo is hoping for the third consecutive on-time budget of his term.

The budget initially didn't seem to be particularly divisive, but in recent days lawmakers and Cuomo have discussed expanding the scope of the spending plan.

The sides have talked about increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 a hour next January. Democrats support it, but Senate Republicans have insisted that the increase be phased in over a longer period of time.

"It looks like it's very possible that will be in the final version," Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, told reporters Friday of the minimum-wage increase.

Lawmakers are looking to pair the minimum-wage increase with keeping higher income taxes on the wealthy and tax-breaks for the middle class, legislative officials said.

Lawmakers have been discussing an increase in the child deduction tax credit, raising it from $1,000 per dependent to $1,300 over several years. Another proposal would increase in the earned income tax credit, which provides refunds on residents' income taxes based on income levels.

Senate Republicans are also pushing for private sector tax breaks as business groups rail against a minimum-wage increase.

Businesses want lawmakers to reject Cuomo's proposal to extend an energy surcharge, which they said would cost consumers $254 million next fiscal year and $509 million in subsequent years.

"If our leaders in Albany are serious about energizing our economy and boosting job growth, they must reject an extension of this hidden tax," Brian Sampson, executive director of the Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate, said in a statement.

Higher income taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year was enacted in December 2011 and is set to expire at the end of 2014. Cuomo and the Legislature are up for election in November 2014, so they would prefer a deal before next year.

"If we have the option to reduce taxes in this state, I am certainly open and aggressive about it, but nothing is in, and nothing is out," Cuomo said.

The surcharge brings in about $2 billion a year, and revenue from it could be used to help pay for more tax breaks for businesses and the middle class, officials said.

The Partnership for New York City, a powerful business group, had supported Cuomo's increase in taxes for the wealthy in 2011, but now said it is opposed to an extension.

"Circumstances have changed dramatically, and we are convinced that extension of the surcharge at this time is the worst possible message New York state could send to our most important job creators and revenue generators," the group's president, Kathryn Wylde, wrote to lawmakers on Friday.

Lawmakers said Thursday that they will add about $550 million in spending to the roughly $136 billion budget, including $290 million in additional school aid.

Advocacy groups are pressuring the Senate to approve a minimum-wage increase. The Democratic-led Assembly approved increasing the wage to $9 an hour, but a coalition of Republicans and Democrats leading the Senate has yet to act.

"The time for excuses is over. Given the tremendous support by voters, community, faith, labor and business leaders, the minimum wage should have been increased last year," said Mark Dunlea, the head of the state's Hunger Action Network.


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