- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Education and ethics continued to dominate New York state budget talks Tuesday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers worked to find agreement before a deadline next week.

In what is an annual tradition in Albany, lobbyists and reporters stood in Capitol hallways anxious for any nugget of information from closed-door negotiations among lawmakers and the governor. Every few hours, a legislative leader would offer an enigmatic appraisal.

“We’re not close, we’re not far,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said, adding that he expected lawmakers to reach an agreement before the new fiscal year begins April 1.

Several key spending and policy items remained in flux as negotiations wore on, while others were discarded. Here are some of highlights.

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EDUCATION:

Cuomo touched off a fight with teachers unions over proposals to strengthen tenure rules and make student test performance a greater factor in evaluations. Assembly Democrats, a traditional ally of teachers unions, objected to the governor’s proposals. Both sides worked on a compromise - potentially involving a commission that would study the issue.

Overall state funding remained an uncertainty, with Cuomo suggesting increasing aid to public schools by $1.1 billion to $23 billion. The Assembly and Senate have called for a bigger increase.

Three other major education proposals from the Democratic governor were taken out of the budget: the authorization of 100 additional charter schools; a tax credit for donations to public or private schools; and the Dream Act, which would extend financial aid to students in the country illegally.

Cuomo said the initiatives could get separate votes in the Legislature once the budget is done.

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ETHICS:

Ethics reform emerged as a key issue following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver in January on charges that he accepted nearly $4 million in payoffs.

Cuomo wants to require lawmakers to disclose their incomes from side jobs, and he wants lawyers in the Legislature to identify big clients. The Assembly backs the plan, but the Senate Republican majority has objected.

The governor has threatened not to sign a budget that doesn’t contain his ethics proposal - an ultimatum that could end his streak of four on-time budgets. The Senate could use that against Cuomo by trying to get him to agree to a watered-down ethics bill in exchange for an on-time budget.

“It’s a sensitive area,” Cuomo said over the disclosure of lawmakers’ legal clients. “It’s been a difficult issue for a long time, but I’m hopeful that we can make progress.”

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MINIMUM WAGE:

Heastie’s Assembly Democrats want to phase-in increasing the minimum wage to reach $12.60 statewide and $15 in the New York City area by 2019. Cuomo has called for a smaller increase - to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 within the city at the end of next year. Senate Republicans have opposed increases, but said they could consider a modest bump.

The current wage of $8.75 an hour will rise to $9 at year’s end.

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JUVENILE JUSTICE

Cuomo said Tuesday afternoon his proposal to treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as juveniles and not adults is likely to be left out when the final budget is approved. New York and North Carolina are the only two states that automatically prosecute and house 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults. Cuomo said he hopes the issue is taken up after the budget, before lawmakers adjourn in June.

“I think that will be done, hopefully in June,” he said.

But in a sign of just how fluid the talks are, his spokeswoman said a few hours later that funding for the proposal, known to advocates as “Raise the Age,” remained a part of the budget negotiations.

“To clarify - Raise the Age continues to be part of budget negotiations,” spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa tweeted.


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