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Two days before the due date, the New York state budget is starting to take shape, as lawmakers planned to return to the Capitol for a rare Sunday session to begin voting to meet the April 1 deadline.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to defend his choice to hold a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser attended by key lobbyists two weeks before the budget is due, saying he supports public campaign financing.

In a radio interview with WCNY’s “The Capitol Pressroom,” Cuomo said he was not influenced by the money he received from donors.

“If anyone suggests that any position I take is linked to a contributor,” they would be wrong, Cuomo said.

Keng Susumpow / Flickr

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature have reached a deal to make New York the third state with a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags as they worked to finalize budget agreements, officials said Friday.

The ban would prohibit grocery stores from providing plastic bags for most purchases, something California has been doing since a statewide ban was approved in 2016. Hawaii has an effective statewide ban, with all its counties imposing their own restrictions.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media

Maple producers are in the midst of their 24th annual Maple Weekend program in New York State. Farms across upstate are opening up sugar shacks so visitors can watch clear sap from a maple tree morph into mouthwatering maple syrup. The industry is growing, but also in the midst of a major transition.

Greg Cotterill / WXXI News

March is Women's History Month, and local historians and National Park Service rangers led members of the media on a guided tour of the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls on Wednesday.

They were calling attention to the backlog of repairs needed at that site and all of New York's national parks.

Fred Capozzi, a member of the Seneca Falls Historical Society, said they're urging Congress to pass the Restore our Parks Act to free up some much-needed funding.

Deana Michaels, Dan Farfaglia, Ethan Parkhurst

Ron Woodward has occupied the Fulton mayor's office since 2008, and before that for two years in the 1980s. The 70-year-old had planned to run for a fourth straight term as mayor, his fifth overall. He had already been endorsed by the Fulton GOP, but this week Woodward changed his mind, and announced that he would not run for re-election.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The push for a public campaign finance system for New York’s politicians heated up as a feud erupted between three young female lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides.

They were arguing over a private, $25,000-a-plate fundraiser held by the governor just two weeks before the state budget is due.

A plan to create a matching small-donor public campaign finance system for statewide elections is included in Cuomo’s budget and has some support in the Democrat-led state Senate.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Onondaga Community College in Syracuse is starting up a groundbreaking program that attacks the issue of the high cost of textbooks. 

Students at OCC spend an average of $615 on textbooks every semester. Senior Allison Guzman-Martinez said she has struggled with the costs, and she hears it from fellow students.

"They can’t go to the library because they have a full time job. And I hear these conversations, and they're not abnormal to hear, they’re normal to hear, here at school, because the prices are insane," said Guzman-Martinez.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The city of Syracuse has put together a package of initiatives meant to attack the issue of housing instability.

Keng Susumpow / Flickr

The sponsors of a bill to ban single-use plastic bags in New York are optimistic that the measures will be part of the new state budget. But there are still details to be worked out, including whether there should be a fee on paper bags.

Lawmakers and environmental groups stood outside the Assembly chambers in a Capitol filled with groups making their last-minute pitches for items in the state budget.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo held up a crumpled plastic bag and said the overuse of the bags is an environmental scourge.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Two freshman state senators and one recently elected Assemblywoman say they are incensed by a New York Times article documenting a recent fundraiser held by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that charged up to $25,000 per person.

Cuomo says he’s for a public campaign finance system, but Sen. Alessandra Biaggi says the governor is disingenuous to hold a major fundraiser just before the budget is due.

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Unions and many Democrats in the state Legislature are pushing for an expansion of the state’s prevailing wage law. But they are finding that the change might have some unintended consequences. 

The prevailing wage rules require that all publicly funded construction projects in a region pay at least the average wage paid on all projects completed in that area.

The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, which buys blighted properties and sells them to be redeveloped in central New York, is looking at its biggest budget deficit ever, and without help, could be out of cash in two years.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana plan to hold rallies each day at the State Capitol this week, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to include the measure in the state budget.  

Kassandra Frederique with the Drug Policy Alliance said supporters worry that if the issue lingers until later in the session, its chances of passage will diminish.

“Kicking the can down the road more is not a good sign for us as community members,” Frederique said. “The urgency on what legalization can do for our communities is important.”

Payne Horning / WRVO News File Photo

A series of heroin overdoses have occurred in Oneida County recently, including seven overdoses in a 24-hour period. Five people have died and more than 20 overdoses happened in ten days, leading the Oneida County Overdose Response Team to alert the public.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

With less than a week to go to the budget deadline, interest groups converged on the state Capitol, lobbying to get their measures included in the budget plan, and in some cases, to keep items out.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for the release of the full report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, after special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation last week. Members of Congress from central and northern New York have also weighed in.

A summary from Attorney General William Barr said President Donald Trump’s campaign did not conspire with Russia to influence the election. But it stops short of exonerating the president of obstructing justice in the investigation.

Sen. Pam Helming

The so-called Finger Lakes Community Preservation Act was carefully crafted to prevent the construction of the proposed $365-million trash incinerator in the town of Romulus in Seneca County. The act bans state agencies from approving the construction of incineration facilities if they are within the Oswego River/Finger Lakes Watershed, 50 miles from a landfill, and 10 miles from a DEC-designated priority water body. The bill failed to pass the Assembly last year.

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The binational organization that regulates shared water between the U.S. and Canada is missing the necessary amount of members it needs to take any actions. That's alarming some communities along Lake Ontario where water levels are about a foot above average.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO Public Media

A new era of baseball in central New York starts when the brand-new Syracuse Mets take the field for the home opener, April 4.

Don Waful’s baseball watching days in Syracuse go back almost a century to the Syracuse Stars.

"I saw some minor league games here in Syracuse when I was 10 years old," Waful said. "I’d say 1925.”

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News (file photo)

The new state budget, due April 1, will be first one decided by an all-Democratic state legislature in a decade, after Republicans ruled the Senate for most of the past century. And while the leadership of the Senate and Assembly have been newly reasserting their governing powers, when it comes to the spending plan, there’s only so far that they can go in their disagreements with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

With less than a week to go to the budget deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said talks are proceeding in "good faith" with the legislature, but he said many differences still remain. And he indicated that lingering resentments over the failed Amazon deal might be coloring the discussions.

WRVO Public Media

The decision about the future of Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse still looms over the region. Called the most important decsion for the city in a generation, the public is largely split on what should replace the elevated portion of highway that runs through the city. Many in the city favor a community grid, which would route trhough traffic around the city via Interstate 481, while many outside the city prefer to see the highway stay where it is. 

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

As budget season nears for the city of Syracuse, councilors are asking where the police and fire departments stand with overtime and staffing. Both departments are understaffed, but are also making efforts to reduce overtime pay.

Syracuse is spending around $10 million a year in overtime for police and fire. Fire Chief Michael Monds said staffing is at the bare minimum and overtime is the lowest it’s been in recent years.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

As central New York continues to wait for a state study on the future of Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse, a group that wants to keep a high speed Interstate running through the city is sharing some three-year old data it says supports it’s view.

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Gambling casino companies are pressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to allow them to open gaming centers in New York City as part of the new state budget. There are a number of obstacles to overcome, but the proposal may seem tempting to lawmakers, who are strapped for cash this year.

Jason Smith / WRVO News File Photo

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the U.S., a trend likely to bring more extreme storms while also degrading water quality, worsening erosion and posing tougher challenges for farming, scientists reported Thursday.

Brett Levin / Flickr

The chance to include the legalization of adult recreational marijuana in the state budget is fading, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to be backing away from the proposal.

Legislative leaders have already said it might be better to create a plan for adult use of recreational cannabis outside of the time pressures of the state budget, which is due at the end of the month. There are still many unanswered questions about who would be permitted to grow marijuana, distribute it and sell it.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

Tensions between Syracuse’s new police chief and the head of the police union have spilled out into the public discourse in recent days. But Chief Kenton Buckner isn’t backing down from previous comments he’s made or his desire to bring change to the department.

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Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has criss-crossed the state over the last several weeks sounding the alarm that the state's two percent tax cap, which limits local government and school district spending, is more important now than ever and should be made permanent by the state legislature.

"This year because of the uncertainty out of Washington, and knowing that our taxpayers are taking it on the chin because of the loss of the state and local tax deduction (SALT), we think we need to come out even stronger and enshrine this two-percent tax cap and make it permanent," said Hochul.