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Minimum wage, school aid are obstacles to state budget deal

The New York State Capitol is seen March

The New York State Capitol is seen March 16, 2008 in Albany, New York. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chris Hondros

ALBANY - Minimum wage, education aid, state university tuition and cost shifts to New York City loom as the major roadblocks as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators scrambled Monday to agree on a budget in time to beat New York’s fiscal deadline.

Lawmakers huddled several times behind closed doors at the State Capitol only to emerge saying too many “open issues” remained to finalize a deal.

“In some regards, we were able to move forward. But there’s still some outstanding issues, particularly how New York City comes out of this,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), said after a lengthy meeting of the Assembly Democrats. Heastie raised objections late Sunday about Medicaid cost burdens being shifted to New York City, a source said.

Lawmakers are trying to reach a deal by midnight Thursday, the start of New York’s fiscal deadline. Without agreements Monday, they now will have to resort to “emergency” measures to waive the required three-day waiting period between introducing a bill and voting on it, a wait that is designed to allow the public to weigh in on proposals. The Democratic governor, in his sixth year in office, proposed a $154.5 billion spending plan.

True to the Albany fashion of doing business, no issues are settled until all are, meaning many major issues aren’t nailed down. For example, lawmakers said they still were batting around a number proposals regarding Cuomo’s push for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The latest version had a three-tiered phase-in, with New York City hitting the mark first in three years, Long Island and Westchester County after six and upstate after about eight years, according to rank-and-file legislators. But as several noted, proposals can shift day to day.

“Albany is the art of the compromise and we’ll see where we are at the end of the day,” Heastie said.

The Republican-led Senate was even more tight-lipped.

“Everything is still flowing,” said Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope). In a sign that progress had crept to a halt, Republicans canceled a scheduled late afternoon conference.

Tuition at the State University of New York campuses remains unsettled. Cuomo is pushing for a plan to raise tuition $300 per year annually for five years. The Senate and Assembly want a tuition freeze, but that might push state spending over a 2 percent, self-imposed spending cap the governor favors.

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