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Deadline approaches for state budget

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With just over a week until the state budget is due, there’s pressure to drop a number of unrelated items in Governor Cuomo’s state spending plan.

Cuomo has tied ethics reform and education policy changes to the budget, and threatened to hold up the spending plan if the legislature does not agree.  

Lawmakers have been unhappy with all of the linkage. And now a plan to connect an education tax credit and the college aid plan for immigrants known as the Dream Act together is in doubt.  Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says it’s unlikely that either will end up in the final budget plan.

“It’s not looking good right now,” Heastie told reporters.

But the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, John De Francisco says everything is still on the table, and that even issues that are said to be settled could be reopened once again, as the night and day talks go on.

Late in the day, Governor Cuomo's spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa issued a statement, saying, in part:"The DREAM Act is supported by the Assembly and the Education Tax Credit is supported by the Senate. Last year, neither initiative was passed. The Governor believes at this point, that either both will pass or neither. The Governor supports passage of both and included them in his budget. If they don’t pass in the budget, they could still pass in regular session. "

Supporters of the Dream Act were dismayed, and urged the governor to try harder.

"We have seen tough nosed negotiations in the past when he is really committed to an issue, we need to see that now," said the Alliance for Quality Education's Billy Easton.

Senator DeFrancisco says all of the extra, unrelated items are slowing down the process.

“If this was just the budget, we’d be done,” said DeFrancisco. “It’s all the ancillary issues that are that are holding things up, the policy issues. And that’s why it’s very difficult this year.”

Senate Republicans are trying to modify a plan by Governor Cuomo and the Assembly to require that legislators who have outside law clients report the names of those clients and details of the employment if they are paid more than five thousand dollars.

Senator DeFrancisco says that’s too restrictive, and only clients who have business before the state should be made public.

“There’s ways to do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new poll by Siena College finds New Yorkers don’t like the governor’s idea of linking unrelated items into the state budget.  

Siena’s Steve Greenberg  says while voters believe ethics reform and school funding policy are important, they don’t want the issues linked to the budget. They also say an on time spending plan is important to them.

Voters also want to raise the minimum wage higher than the governor is proposing, and think he should not exclude minority party leaders, including the only female legislative leader Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, from budget talks.

“Voters are not thrilled with many of the ways that the governor is dealing with this year’s budget,” Greenberg said.

However Cuomo’s approval rating is relatively strong, at 57 percent, and Greenberg says if the governor actually achieves ethics reform and some of his more popular education changes, the public is likely to back that.  

There are some who support  additional items in the state budget, like the minimum wage increase proposal.

A protest to raise the minimum wage drew hundreds to the state Capitol, and around 100 stormed into the Capitol’s  Dunkin Donuts and demanded that the state’s minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour. Dunkin Donuts is advertising jobs with a starting salary of $9 an hour, which is the state’s current minimum wage, says the Strong Economy for All coalition’s Michael Kink.

“The workers chose $15, because they feel that it would make a real difference in their lives,” Kink said.

The protesters, chanting “we’ll be back”, left peacefully when state police arrived and asked them to exit the restaurant. Governor Cuomo is proposing raising the state’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, $10.50 upstate, and he’s received backing from dozens of religious leaders. The state Assembly wants to phase in a $15 an hour wage in New York City by 2018.