- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - With a key budget deadline just days away, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers said Tuesday they are close to an agreement on his proposal to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15.

Following a closed door meeting with legislative leaders, the Democratic governor said current negotiations are focusing on how fast to raise the wage, now $9, and whether certain parts of the state would top out at a figure of less than $15. One idea that emerged Tuesday would raise the minimum wage upstate to $12.50, and then tie any future increase to inflation.

“We all agree there will be a minimum wage increase,” Cuomo told reporters. “Now we are discussing how much, when, and where.”

Cuomo said he’s confident the budget deal will include a plan to allow workers to take paid time off to care for a new child or sick loved one, and will also contain a large increase in education spending.

The governor and lawmakers are working to hammer out a deal before the state begins a new fiscal year on Friday. In a sign of confidence, the Legislature planned to begin printing the giant budget bills Tuesday night for possible action on Wednesday or Thursday.

Cuomo’s original $145 billion budget proposal contained his two priorities for the year: 12 weeks of paid family leave and a plan to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 in New York City by the end of 2018 and by mid-2021 elsewhere.

Members of the Senate’s Republican majority have said such a sharp increase could devastate businesses in many parts of the state, and have suggested a slower phase-in or a lower figure of $12 or $13 for upstate. Cuomo said the budget deal is also expected to give the state the ability to pause the increases in the event of an economic downturn.

“We’re having ongoing discussions” on the wage, Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said after his meeting with Cuomo. “We’re confident we can get to a resolution.”

Cuomo said the agreement with lawmakers will contain greater tax relief for small businesses than his administration first proposed. Cuomo had called for $300 million in small business tax breaks to offset the higher labor costs of the minimum wage hike. Senate Republicans have pushed for $500 million.

Another contentious issue yet to be resolved is Cuomo’s proposal to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in future Medicaid costs to New York City. Cuomo’s proposal in January called for the city to pay $180 million more, a figure that would rapidly increase in future years as Medicaid costs rise. Assembly Democrats and Mayor Bill de Blasio oppose the move.

Paid family leave is expected to be in the budget, though Cuomo and lawmakers said they continued to negotiate the finer details of the initiative.

The budget should also contain record investments in education and a fair division of transportation funding between upstate and downstate, Flanagan said.

“We are down to a few final issues that we need to resolve,” said Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

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