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State budget finalized, voting on Monday


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have finalized the details on a $138 billion state budget and say they are on track to meet the April 1 deadline.

The budget includes a multi-step plan that could  lower property taxes, $340 million for schools to start pre-K programs, and a limited test program for public campaign financing.

Cuomo, speaking one day after the budget was finally closed down at near midnight on Friday, says he’s pleased that he convinced the legislature to adopt his multi-step plan that could lead to reduced property taxes. He calls it “the single most transformative component of the budget.”

The plan requires local governments to hold the line on spending, and consolidate services. If the localities and school districts cooperate, then homeowners would receive a rebate check in mail, shortly before Election Day.

Schools will see a $1.1 billion increase in state aid, and $340 million will be devoted to starting pre-kindergarten programs, with a commitment to keep that level of funding for five years. New York City will receive $300 million, upstate and Long Island will split the remaining $40 million dollars.

Senate Independent Democrat Conference Leader Jeff Klein, who rules the Senate in a coalition with the Republicans, spoke as the final agreement was being reached.

“We’re looking forward to having a fully funded universal pre-K program in the state of New York ,” Klein said.

Charter schools will get more money and help with paying for classroom space.  And there will be a two year moratorium on the effects of the new Common Core tests on students.

The governor and lawmakers also agreed on an ethics package. It will increase investigations of campaign finance violations, and strengthen penalties for bribery and corruption. In exchange, Cuomo says he’s agreed to disband his Moreland Act Commission that was in the midst of investigating alleged wrong doing by lawmakers.

“If this package is adopted, then I would end the Moreland Commission,” Cuomo said.  

The budget also includes a test pilot program for public campaign financing.  It will apply only to the atate comptroller’s race, for the 2014 election cycle. The money for a matching small donor program would come from the comptroller’s own unclaimed deposits fund.

Bill Mahoney, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says it’s disappointing that the governor, who he says is “the most prodigious fundraiser” in New York, will not be included in the public campaign finance system.

“There’s no changes to his limits that have let him receive ridiculous amounts of money from large donors,” Mahoney said.

Cuomo has raised $33 million so far for his re election effort.

Advocates have not given up yet, though. Klein, in a statement, says he will continue to push for a more comprehensive public finance system between now and April 1.  

Cuomo says he, too, wanted a “more robust” system, and will keep trying in the rest of the session, but he blames Republicans, who co-lead the Senate with Klein and the IDC, for resisting  the measure. 

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.