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Politics and Government

Cuomo, lawmakers down to the wire on budget agreement

Raising the minimum wage has been Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature issue of this year's budget negotiations. The campaign has included rallies, like this one held earlier this month.

Lawmakers worked toward a budget deal Monday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated he’s making some concessions on the minimum wage.

Cuomo said he would like budget agreements to come early enough so that all of the bills can be passed by the April 1 deadline. He said he does not want to use what’s called a message of necessity to pass bills faster if agreements come late, but he has not ruled out that possibility altogether.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get there on time,” Cuomo said, speaking at an Easter Sunday egg hunt at the governor’s mansion.

The budget issue that’s gained most attention is the governor’s push to phase in raising the minimum age to $15 an hour.

Cuomo was asked about reports that  there might be a lower than $15 minimum wage for upstate, perhaps as low as $12.50 or $13. Cuomo would not confirm that, but said his plan already calls for a longer phase in to $15 for regions outside New York City, and he concedes talks have focused on treating upstate differently than downstate.

“Some states have three rates, some states have even more,” Cuomo said. “So, we anticipate a different rate to get to $15 and obviously there’s a variety of ways that you can get there.”

Pro minimum wage groups are holding a 24-hour vigil at the Capitol. Rev. Emily McNeill, with the New York State Labor Religion Coalition, said Cuomo already is proposing a nearly six-year phase in for the $15 rate upstate and any longer would be unacceptable.  

“They will not allow families to support themselves,” McNeill said.

The minimum wage advocates aren’t the only ones at the Capitol as the budget deal draws near. Proponents of the governor’s goal to end AIDS in New York by 2020 also came to protest.

They say the governor announced his plan in June 2014 nearly two years ago, but since then has not put any significant money into the budget. They say this year, Cuomo has only placed between $10 and $15 million in the state spending plan.

Reginald Brown, with VOCAL New York, said at least $70 million is needed -- $50 million to fund crucial housing programs for people living with HIV or AIDS. Using the mic check style of call and response made popular by Occupy groups, Brown said he and other activists stay they also will stay night and day to pressure lawmakers to add the funds.

“We will stay here and risk arrest and civil disobedience to honor 100,000 of those that we have lost,” said Brown, his voice breaking. “This is going to stop now.”

They say they will spend the time reading the names of New Yorkers who have died of AIDS.

While the groups, as well as reporters and lobbyists wait to hear news of a final deal on the budget, government reform groups condemned the decision making process as being more secretive than ever. Barbara Bartoletti with the League of Women Voters said even the closed door, three men in a room leaders meetings, criticized for their secrecy, are no longer even announced.

“We (already) have a culture of corruption here in Albany, “ Bartoletti said. “We can now say that there is absolutely no openness to this budget.”

Bartoletti and other government reform groups say they are also disappointed that the budget will not include any ethics reform, despite the conviction of the two former legislative leaders on multiple corruption charges.