WXXI Local Stories
6:17 pm
Tue March 15, 2011

Senate, Assembly Release Budgets

Albany, New York –
The state Senate and Assembly released their own one house budgets Tuesday- as the first step toward reaching a budget agreement by the end of the month. Arguments will center on whether to restore some of Governor Cuomo's cuts to school aid, and whether to continue a tax on millionaires.

The budgets released by each house of the legislature are austere, compared to standards of the past, and, except in the area of school aid, make few restorations to the governor's $10 billion dollars in cuts.

Senator Kemp Hannon, chair of the Health Committee, says Senators feel that they have no choice but to accept many of the governor's cuts, including most of the $2 billion dollars in reductions to health care.

"It's a tight, painful budget," Hannon said.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari says the budget proposed by Assembly Democrats would continue an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers making more than one million dollars a year. The current surcharge includes residents who earn more than $200,000 a year and up. Canestrari says without the millionaire's tax, the budget would be "brutal" to students, the elderly and others who he says have "no voice" in society.

"We're asking school children and people in the medical field, senior citizens and others, students, across the state to take a hit," said Canestrari. "Then the millionaire's should take a little hit as well."

Senate Republicans do not include the millionaire's tax in their budget plan, and won't ultimately agree to it, says Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

"We will not support it," said Skelos. " It's the wrong message to the business community."

The Assembly plan also rejects a proposal endorsed by Cuomo's Medicaid redesign panel. It would limit medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering to $250,000 per victim. The Senate budget accepts the governor's plan.

Both houses do agree that Governor Cuomo did not adequately provide for schools. Assemblyman Canestrari says the Assembly would restore $700 million dollars in education funding to schools, a summary of Assembly proposals says $200 million dollars would be restored to school aid. The Senate would restore $280 million dollars to schools, and redistribute the money to aim more funding to some rural school districts and schools on Long Island that Senators say were shorted in the governor's budget.

Senators also reject proposals that they say would impose additional costs on localities. For instance, Cuomo wants to shift costs for the education of vision and hearing impaired and other disabled children from the state to school districts. The Senate does not include that change.

The one house budget documents can be viewed as a kind of wish list, or negotiating position as the talks begin in earnest. There's no requirement that the resolutions be balanced. Republicans, who are in the minority in the Assembly, called the Democratic Majority's budget resolution a "fairy tale". The Senate plan relies on spending $500 million dollars in reserved pots of money that the governor wanted to award as competitive grants to schools. But the governor's budget office says that money won't be available until the following fiscal year, so can't be used for any purpose this year.

Senate Education Chair John Flanagan was asked how the disparate numbers in the Senate's budget adds up.

"Pray a lot," Flanagan quipped.

Both houses also include more optimistic estimates of how much revenue the state will take in over the next year.

Meanwhile, groups who believe they've been left out of the budget continue to protest. Disabled groups briefly disrupted proceedings in the Assembly.

"I'd rather go to jail than die in a nursing home," the protesters chanted.

After about half an hour, the Assembly began debating bills, speaking over the demonstrators' chants.

After approving the bills in the Senate and the Assembly, the two houses planned to begin joint conference committees that will last for several days. They will also need to negotiate with governor Cuomo, who has remained silent so far on the contents of the legislature's budget plans.

Both houses say they hope to get done by March 31st deadline, something that has occurred only rarely in recent decades.