- Associated Press - Saturday, February 25, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - In New York state government, lawmakers return for the busiest month of the legislative session and a plan to shutter Indian Point nuclear plant goes under the microscope.

Fresh from a week off, senators and Assembly members will return to Albany on Tuesday. They hope to approve a state budget before April 1, so the next several weeks will see a flurry of activity as lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates work to get their wish-list included in the massive spending plan. A guide to what’s coming up:

BUDGET FRENZY BEGINS

The budget is Albany’s key achievement each year, a document that doesn’t just divide up tax dollars but also serves as a list of state priorities and policies, some of which may have little to do with dollars and cents.

This year, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a $152 billion budget that increases school spending by $1 billion, an expanded child care tax credit and $2 billion over five years for water quality and drinking and waste water pipes.



It also includes Cuomo’s $163 million plan to make state college tuition free for middle-class students, a proposal to permit ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft expand into upstate New York and the end of the state’s practice of routinely prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

The final product will be hammered out behind closed doors by Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan.

Following many years of late budgets under previous governors, Cuomo has made it a priority to pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins April 1. Relations between the governor and lawmakers are as strained as they have been since Cuomo took office, however, and lawmakers may be less keen to follow Cuomo’s lead this year.

Look for Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly to spend much of the next month working to get their priorities in the plan - and exclude the ideas they oppose.

“There’s no way on God’s green earth that we have a budget unless there’s compromise,” Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, told reporters recently.

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NUCLEAR PLAN QUESTIONED

Lawmakers will also dig into a proposal to close Indian Point nuclear power plant in suburban New York, a plan that delights critics of the aging facility and worries others concerned about lost jobs and power.

Under an arrangement negotiated by Cuomo, both reactors at the Westchester County plant will cease operations by April 2021.

It remains to be seen how the state would make up for the loss of electrical generation once the plant closes. According to Indian Point, which has 1,050 employees, the facility supplies the equivalent of a quarter of the power used in New York City and Westchester County.

More than 17 million people live within 50 miles of the plant, which sits alongside the lower Hudson River, about 30 miles north of New York City.

A legislative hearing scheduled for Tuesday is likely to delve into the implications of closing the plant.

“Indian Point is a major power and job producer in the Hudson Valley. It is our responsibility to fully understand how the generated power, and jobs associated with it, will be replaced,” said Republican Sen. Terrence Murphy.

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CARBON FARMING?

Democratic Assemblywoman Didi Barrett has introduced legislation to give farmers a tax credit for planting trees or using compost to help soak up carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The idea is to incentivize the state’s agricultural industry to reduce its effect on carbon emissions, rather than penalize it for not taking action.

Barrett plans to detail the proposal at an event Tuesday.

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