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Budget due Friday, but no agreements finalized yet

WBFO File Photo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders plan to meet all week, but no agreements are finalized yet on a state budget that’s due Friday.

Cuomo and the state Legislature have not yet nailed down a budget deal that could include an extension of a tax on millionaires, more tuition aid for middle-class college students and more spending on clean water infrastructure. They continue to meet — together, and in their separate party conferences — behind closed doors.

Outside the private meetings, in the public halls of the Capitol, anti-homelessness activists demonstrated Monday. Twenty-one were arrested.

Members of VOCAL-NY want Cuomo and Republicans in the state Senate to go along with a plan by Assembly Democrats to expand the millionaires’ tax to add several higher brackets to generate even more revenue.

The group’s Jeremy Saunders said the money is not just needed for New York’s current needs, but also may be necessary if proposed federal budget cuts by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress become law.

“If anyone thinks that a Trump presidency and a House and a Senate controlled by the GOP is not going to lead to budget cuts that impact New York, then they have their head in the sand,” Saunders said.

Cuomo held several events in recent days warning against federal proposals that could cost the state billions. Nevertheless, he’s not ready to commit to expanding the existing tax on millionaires or any other income level, he said.

“I’m not doing it,” Cuomo said.

The biggest sticking points in the budget, however, have almost nothing to do with taxing and spending. Each year, the governor tacks on unrelated policy issues to the budget. This year, that includes legalizing ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft outside of New York City.

Josh Gold, a spokesman for Uber, said lawmakers now have all the information they need from the companies to make a decision. A poll by Siena College found that more than three-quarters of New Yorkers want the services. He said legislators even have numerous regulatory models to choose from, since only upstate New York and one other state, Alaska, still ban ride-hailing.

“All New Yorkers want access to services that the rest of the country has,” Gold said.

The ride-hailing companies prefer a statewide solution, but some lawmakers want each locality to be able to set up its own rules for drivers.

Ride-hailing is hung up because lawmakers have not yet agreed to another non-spending-related item: a change in criminal justice rules to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles, not adults, in the state’s court and prison systems.

Just as in ride-hailing, New York lags behind 48 other states on what’s known as Raise the Age; North Carolina is the only other state that still treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the courts. Cuomo acted administratively last year to divert 16- and 17-year-olds from serving time in adult prisons.

Assembly Democrats and Cuomo support Raise the Age. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said repeatedly that it’s a top priority for him. Heastie, the first African-American Assembly speaker, spoke about it in February.

“Personally, it’s embarrassing,” said Heastie. “To me, as a speaker of color, it’s truly hurtful to me.”

Some Senate Republicans are holdouts on Raise the Age. Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a western New Yorker who also is the former Erie County sheriff, said he has concerns that some very violent crimes, such as murder, should still require a 16- or 17-year-old to be tried in adult court, not family court, as Raise the Age supporters believe.

“That’s the threshold issue,” Gallivan said.

But Gallivan said he personally thinks that 16- or 17-year-olds should be treated differently than adults, even if they are processed in adult criminal court.

The deadline to resolve Raise the Age and the other issues is Friday, but a work week can be a long time in state politics, and there’s still plenty of time for deals to be forged.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.