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Cuomo, lawmakers meet on budget

With just three weeks and one day to go before a state budget deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders met to assess how far they have to go to reach a deal.

In order to meet their self-imposed deadline of March 21 to complete a spending plan, Cuomo and lawmakers will have to work through some thorny issues like disagreements over the state’s minimum wage and how to expand casino gambling.

“We have a number of issues on the table that are challenging,” Cuomo said. “It’s going well, but am I concerned? Yes”.

Cuomo has raised the possibility of leaving out the more complicated issues, until later in the session, after the budget has passed.  For now, neither the governor nor legislative leaders are willing to drop anything. Although Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says he continues to have reservations about a minimum wage hike.

“We still haven’t made a decision as to whether expanding the minimum wage is going to be counterproductive to job creation,” Skelos said.

Skelos spoke after a closed-door meeting between the governor and legislative leaders. The Republicans co-lead the Senate with five breakaway Democrats. Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, was also at the private meeting. Klein is a major backer of the minimum wage increase.

“We need to increase the minimum wage quickly, I think it should be part of the budget,” said Klein who says the increase would pump money back into the economy, in the form of fatter paychecks for the working poor, and create 5,000 new jobs.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was the first to propose the minimum wage increase over a year ago, says he’s fine with either timetable, as long as the minimum wage increase happens.

The speaker says he does have some issues with the budget proposed by Cuomo, including millions of dollars in cuts to services for the disabled announced by Cuomo’s budget director a few days ago.

“I have a lot of concerns in various parts of the budget, including disabled services,” Silver said.

The federal government has been charging that New York has been over billing Medicaid for years for state-run developmentally disabled centers. Cuomo cut $500 million out of the state’s Medicaid budget to comply -- $120 million would come from services to the disabled and $380 million would be saved by lowering spending caps for other Medicaid services.

Barbara Crosier, with the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State, says the six percent across-the-board cuts, combined with earlier budget cuts, would mean staff cut backs  and fewer programs for people with cerebral palsy, autism, and other disabilities.  She says not for profit providers would be made to pay for a Medicaid billing mistake that they had nothing to do with.

“We absolutely feel like we’re being punished for something that we really had nothing to do with,” Crosier said.

Cuomo says he’s open to funding restorations in general, but he says lawmakers need to find the money.

“Everyone has a good idea on how to spend money, they’re not as creative on how to find the money,” said Cuomo, who also said he won’t agree to any new taxes in the budget.  “It has to come from that set amount,” he said.

Silver predicts the revenue estimates, due out March 1, will find there is $400 million more than previously thought. Silver says the Assembly’s budget plan, due out March 11, will restore $260 million that Cuomo cut to New York City schools, after they failed to meet the governor’s deadline to agree on a teacher evaluation plan.  

Later in the day, the Assembly Democrats released their revenue report, and found the additional revenue amounts to $484 million.

Cuomo, asked about the projections earlier in the day said it's possible that the money could be there, but not "probable."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.