- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Negotiations over the New York state budget will spill into Thursday as lawmakers seek to find agreement on a minimum wage hike, Medicaid spending and taxes before a Friday deadline.

A potential deal announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and under review by lawmakers, would include $1 billion in middle-class tax relief and raise the wage from $9 to $15 in New York City in three years.

The wage would also increase elsewhere in the state, though more gradually, and after three years the state could halt the increases in the event of an economic downturn. But Cuomo said he still intends for upstate to have a $15 wage - as long as the future economy can support it.

“We want to raise the minimum wage to a wage where a person can support a family with dignity and decency,” the Democratic governor said. “But we want to do it in a way that stimulates the economy and certainly doesn’t hinder the economy, especially in upstate New York.”

Cuomo has made the $15 wage his top priority this year, though he’s had to contend with Senate Republicans who say such a sharp increase would harm businesses, particularly upstate.

“We’re trying to get to that middle ground that will be fair for everybody,” said Sen. Rich Funke, a Monroe County Republican. “The $15 number, that’s definitely an issue to a lot of people upstate. It’s too much upstate.”

In a possible concession, Cuomo said he has agreed to $1 billion in income tax relief for the middle class, spread over five years. The cut would be available to joint filers making up to $300,000. That proposal was not included in the governor’s original budget proposal.

Legislative leaders will now take Cuomo’s “framework” of a deal to rank-and-file lawmakers to gauge support before a formal vote. Officials hope to pass a budget before the start of a new fiscal year Friday.

The spending plan is expected to include a large increase in school funding. The Senate has called for $1.7 billion; the Assembly wants $2.1 billion. Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said he’s hopeful the budget will end a recession-era policy known as the gap elimination adjustment that withholds some school aid to balance the budget, a practice that hits suburban districts the hardest.

One sticking point was Cuomo’s proposal to shift hundreds of millions of dollars of Medicaid expenses to New York City. The Assembly’s Democratic majority opposed the plan, which Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie said would have been unfairly burdensome.

Cuomo later clarified that he would work with the city to find ways to reduce Medicaid spending without damaging cuts.

The late negotiations mean that lawmakers - and the public - will have little time to review the details before the budget is voted on.

“Billions of dollars of taxpayer money … we need to have more transparency, more inclusion,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said Wednesday on public radio.

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