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Lawmakers say weekend budget session increasingly likely

The New York state budget is crawling to a conclusion, as legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continue closed door meetings to try to strike a final deal.

Several times a day, legislative leaders meet in the governor’s offices, for private negotiating sessions. Each time, they say they are closer to forging a deal, but not quite finished yet.

“Hopefully there will be white smoke soon,” joked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

In recent days, new issues have been added to the spending plan. Some are related, like new tax breaks for the middle class, including an increase in the child tax credit, and the extension of middle class tax reductions and a tax increase on millionaires.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says the tax breaks will total $700 million.

“There are huge pro-business, pro-family tax cuts,” Skelos said.

Many of the new tax breaks would not fully take effect until two or three years in the future. They would partly be financed by the extra taxes on the wealthy, which would be extended from the current expiration date in 2014 to 2015.  It’s unclear whether the additional surcharge on the rich would be made permanent, or would eventually sunset.  Silver says he’s open to a permanent extension.

“I can do everything permanent, I can do everything under sunset,” Silver said.

Lawmakers are also discussing a three-year plan to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour. The topic may seem only tangentially related to the budget. In original proposals by the governor and Assembly, the cost of the wage hike would be borne by businesses. But, according to the Buffalo News, the final budget deal could include refundable tax credits for small businesses that would use taxpayer money to make up the difference when the minimum wage is increased.  

Still other topics under discussion also seem totally unrelated to a budget plan, including easing of the state’s drug laws to lessen penalties for public possession of small amounts of marijuana.  It would address problems with New York City’s Stop and Frisk law, which has led to misdemeanor  convictions  for people carrying small amounts of the drug for private use.  Silver acknowledges a final deal could include a ban on bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

“We will enact something of that nature,” Silver said.

As Tuesday wore on, it became increasingly clear that lawmakers were not going to meet their self-imposed deadline of finishing the budget by March 21, and said they were likely to continue voting on budget bills into the weekend. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference, says it will be at least Friday now before bills could be voted on, and it could continue even into the weekend.

“As long as it takes, I will be here,” Klein said.

While the end of the fiscal year is not until April 1,  lawmakers want to be finished before the Passover and Easter holidays begin on March 25.

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.