AP: Budget deal (updated 10:25 a.m.) PDF Print E-mail
Written by MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer   
Friday, March 30, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Legislative leaders were scheduled to meet Friday for final approvals of thorny details that had stalled talks.
The agreements were the result of a six-hour, closed door meeting Thursday between Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders.
Among the measures that are proposed to be in the 2007-08 budget the Legislature wants to pass by Sunday's start of the fiscal year will:

  • Authorize 100 more charter schools — doubling the current limit — with up to 50 of them in New York City. The deal also includes a total of $22 million in ''transition aid'' to traditional local schools that lose students — and the per pupil aid tied to them — to publicly funded, privately run charter schools. Local taxpayers would get a hearing to voice opposition to any charter school proposal that would be approved by either the state Board of Regents or State University of New York. But local residents wouldn't get to vote to block a charter school.

  • Include rebate tax checks as much as 60 percent more than last year's, which ranged from $300 to nearly $1,000 depending on the property taxpayer's county. More will go to middle class taxpayers, as Spitzer had sought, but the total $1.3 billion in funding allotted for the checks was cut by $200 million. That was transferred to provide more school aid to high-taxed Long Island schools, a goal of the Senate's Republican majority.

  • Include $100 million for ''emerging technologies,'' the new term for what had been Spitzer's stem cell research initiative. The money would continue annually for five years.

  • Apparently won't include a deal to increase the pay of judges or of lawmakers.

  • Eliminate some of Spitzer's plan to close what he called ''tax loopholes'' enjoyed by a few major corporations to avoid what he said is about $200 million in taxes.

  • Not include some elements such as Spitzer's plan to expand the bottle deposit law to include non-carbonated drinks. That proposal and unnamed others that were stalling talks will be removed from the budget negotiations and could be taken up later in the legislative session.

No agreement was reached on Spitzer's $1,000 tax deduction for parents who send their children to private and parochial schools, a measure fought by the New York State United Teachers union.
A joint committee of top Senate and Assembly leaders were scheduled to vote on final versions of budget agreements Friday morning. In all, Spitzer agreed with legislative leaders to increase his budget proposal by about $1 billion, to nearly three times the rate of inflation.
''We are going to get an on-time budget,'' Spitzer said, flanked by legislative leaders.
Hours later, his office released data from the meeting that showed Spitzer's plan for significant Medicaid cuts to hospitals and nursing homes would be reduced. The agreement calls for almost 73 percent of Spitzer's plan, which results in a restoration of $355.7 million in funding to hospitals and nursing homes.
Medicaid growth — at an unsustainable 8 percent since 2001 — would be reduced to about 1 percent while still insuring 400,000 more children, according to the Spitzer briefing. The deal would also freeze some automatic increases for hospitals and nursing homes and reduce some state aid that subsidized worker salaries.
Spitzer said he regrets the deals were the result of closed-door negotiations rather than public meetings called for in this year's budget reform law. But he said he felt an obligation to have an on-time budget — just the third in 23 years — and needed to settle all the differences.
The process was reminiscent of the most notorious days of Albany, when budget deals were cut by the governor, the leader of the Senate and the leader of the Assembly in private. The budget was then rushed to print with the governor's ''messages of necessity'' to suspend the days' long period to allow lawmakers and the public to read the bills. Lawmakers said that was to make sure the deals didn't unravel under pressure from lobbyists and the public.
Sometimes, lawmakers voted for budgets on orders from their leader while the bills were still warm, and unread.
The secretive budget process was part of what led to the Legislature's designation as the nation's most dysfunctional legislature by a law center.
''We're disappointed and really saddened this process didn't meet our expectations,'' said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. In closed-door talks ''we don't hear the policy priorities, why they can or cannot lower property taxes, why education funding is going to be what it is ... people need to know how their tax dollars are going to be spent and why.''



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