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Assembly and Senate Offer Own Budget Resolutions

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

With New York's budget deadline less than three weeks away, the state Senate and Assembly each approved their own budget resolutions Tuesday, setting the stage for the next round of negotiations.

The Assembly's budget would continue a personal income tax surcharge that's set to expire this year. But instead of extending it for everyone making over $200,000 annually — which is the current law — the Assembly would apply the tax solely to those making over $1 million a year.

Assembly Ways and Means committee chair Danny Farrell said this provides crucial restorations "to protect children, seniors, students and vulnerable populations."

The Senate's majority leader, Republican Dean Skelos, said he doesn't approve of the tax.

"It's a tax increase, and I am extremely pleased that Governor Cuomo continues to say, 'No way,'" Skelos told reporters in Albany. "We will not support it. It is a wrong message to the business community."

A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed the governor does not support extending the so-called millionaire's tax, even in scaled-back form.

The Senate issued a statement saying it also accepted 95 percent of the $2.9 billion in reductions and reforms recommended by the governor's Medicaid Redesign Team. The Assembly accepted most of Cuomo's Medicaid cuts, but, significantly, rejected his call to cap non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $250 million. Hospitals and medical providers have long been trying to limit claims, which, in turn, they say will lower their malpractice insurance coverage.

Cuomo had also proposed $1.5 billion in cuts to school aid. The Senate's budget resolution restores $280 million. Most of that money would be distributed to upstate districts, which Senate leaders said would have suffered disproportionate cuts.

The Assembly version restores $200 million, said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

"Neither restoration is big enough," he said. "Both houses need to get together and look at each other's revenue. We need the millionaire's tax and we need a reasonable restoration. Neither house is there yet."

That sentiment was echoed by the New York State School Boards Association. While the group applauded both houses for giving priority to public school students, executive director Timothy Kremer issued a statement saying there would still be a major funding cut.

"This week, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli noted in a report that school districts have been reducing spending while the housing market is collapsing, debt levels are rising, costs are increasing and the ability to generate local revenue is drying up," Kremer stated. "The truth is that when the state backs away from its funding commitment to schools, either the local taxpayer picks up the tab or students lose out on educational opportunities."

The two houses would restore about $90 million for 11 private schools that serve deaf, blind and severely disabled students.

But neither the Assembly nor the Senate provides New York City with the amount of school aid Mayor Michael Bloomberg was counting on in his budget. Bloomberg's budget already includes more than 4,600 teacher layoffs — and that's factoring in $200 million in additional state aid.

Bloomberg got what he wanted from the Senate, though, when it comes to making those layoffs in a way he finds more palatable. The Republican-led house voted to abolish the city's last in-first out (LIFO) rule that requires new teachers to be let go first.

Senate Education Chair John Flanagan, of Long Island, said he removed some of the more controversial criteria for eliminating teachers such as student test scores. But, he said, "We still maintain the general concept that with all those categories, seniority cannot be the only consideration that's given."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hadn't commented on the LIFO legislation. The teachers union said the Senate's latest version contains only "minor tweaks" to a bill the union and the Assembly's leadership already opposed. The union supports Cuomo's call to expedite a new teacher evaluation system that would put less emphasis on seniority when promoting and firing teachers. But that system wouldn't start until the 2011-2012 school year, and Bloomberg has said he needs to layoff teachers before then.

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