Legislature Nears 'Conceptual Agreement' on Budget

The leader of the State Senate says he expects a "conceptual agreement" on the state budget by midday Friday, one week before the March 31 deadline.

Following a private meeting with Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos says he expects a preliminary agreement on the state budget by Friday afternoon. Skelos offered few details, but was adamant that there would not be an extension of the millionaire’s tax in the spending plan.

"It's off the table, that's gone," said Skelos. "It's done, it's dead, it's not going to happen."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver , who was also at the meeting, remained tight lipped, saying only that he is "cautiously optimistic."

Silver does not agree with Senator Skelos that millionaire’s tax is dead, saying only that both sides are "talking about a lot of things."

Advocacy groups continued to lobbying for the extension of the income tax surcharge on New Yorkers making more than a million dollars a year. The groups produced a letter signed by 100 wealthy New Yorkers, who say they are "ready and willing to forgo their tax cut," in order to prevent budget cuts to schools and health care. Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo recorded a video message, a direct appeal to Cuomo.

"Please, ditch this backwards Robin Hood plan," Ruffalo asks Cuomo.

Governor Cuomo did not comment after the closed door meeting, his press secretary issued a statement saying "progress toward a budget agreement continues." But the governor has made clear in recent days that if the legislature does not agree to his budget plan, and misses next week's deadline, then he will attempt to force his entire spending plan through in the first spending extender. He distributed his own video to supporters, warning of a potential government closure.

"I will not back down from my promise to the people of this great state," said Cuomo, who said any government shutdown, which he says would be caused by the legislature, would be "temporary," and would only delay, not “derail” the passage of the governor’s budget.

Legislative leaders say they do not believe that the government will have to be shut down, and many are annoyed by the governor’s pronouncement. Senator Skelos accused Cuomo of “flaunting” his power.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari says the saber rattling is "disappointing."

"It’s like an us versus them mentality, the good guys versus bad guys," said Canestrari. "Especially when things are going very well."

There are still some major sticking points in the budget, including school aid. The legislature wants to restore between $200 and $300 million dollars to Governor Cuomo’s $1.5 billion dollars in cuts.

Speaker Silver says lawmakers have "made a lot of progress" on that issue.

Senators are also trying to resolve differences with the governor over plans for state prison closures, and the governor’s proposed to limit medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering to $250,000 is still under debate.

Both Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Silver have said they’d like to see re authorization and reform of New York City’s rent laws as part of the budget. Senator Skelos says that’s not happening.

Governor Cuomo has also said he’d like his proposed 2 percent property tax cap to be included in the budget. The Senate has passed the measure, the Assembly has not, and the matter is also not likely to be settled before the budget is due.