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NewYorkTimes - Albany Finishes Rare on-Time Budget(Mar31-2011)

NewYorkTimes - Albany Finishes Rare on-Time Budget(Mar31-2011)

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Albany Finishes Rare On-Time Budget
Thomas Kaplan | March 31, 2011ALBANY — To the soundtrack of chanting protesters who draped banners from staircases andbanged on the doors of the legislative chambers, lawmakers finished approving Gov. Andrew M.Cuomo’s budget early Thursday morning, making for the state’s first on-time spending plan infive years.The State Capitol was a place of pandemonium well into the night, with officials scrambling toget the education and health care parts of the budget printed so lawmakers could vote on them.The Senate passed its last budget bill about 11:30 p.m., while the Assembly finished about 1 a.m.The $132.5 billion budget, which hews closely to what Mr. Cuomo proposed two months ago,cuts year-to-year spending for the first time in more than a decade and imposes no major newtaxes. The Legislature’s approval cemented a huge political victory for the governor, whopraised legislative leaders early Thursday “for this demonstration of competence” — somethingfor which Albany is not exactly known.“This bipartisan and bicameral cooperation will give New Yorkers the good budget theydeserve,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “It was an invaluable public service for the stategovernment to ‘function’ so well at this difficult time.”At times, the scramble to approve Mr. Cuomo’s budget on Wednesday seemed to beovershadowed by the chaos at the Capitol. In a last hurrah of sorts, hundreds of New Yorkersunhappy about cuts arrived and promised a Wisconsin-style sleepover, even if it seemed far toolate for such an effort to matter.Legislators appeared on edge. At times, a state trooper armed with a Taser stood guard near theSenate lobby. The Assembly closed its gallery because it did not have enough people to handlecrowd control. One protester was arrested for reportedly hitting a legislative staffer in the headwith a cymbal.Lawmakers, meanwhile, sprinted to approve the dozen or so bills that make up the budget,starting with less contentious measures and finally taking up the portions of the budget dealingwith state funding for schools and local governments late Wednesday. At times, legislators didnot seem entirely sure about what they were voting on. It was not until after nightfall that theyreceived a district-by-district breakdown showing how state school aid would be distributed, anannual sticking point in budget negotiations.The budget restores about $230 million of the $1.5 billion reduction in education spending thatMr. Cuomo proposed. The majority of that restoration, $134 million, will go to counties north of New York City. Another $53 million will go to New York City, and $43 million will go to LongIsland.
Senator John J. Flanagan, a Long Island Republican and the chairman of the Senate EducationCommittee, said the restorations were aimed at “achieving a regional balance” in schoolfinancing. “We took a bad situation and made it better,” he said. “It’s not perfect.”But aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg were quick to criticize the city’s share, saying that therelease of the school district data only minutes before the education budget bill was to be debatedwas an example of Albany at its worst. “We are dividing up crumbs, and to make matters worse,the crumbs have been divided unfairly,” said Micah C. Lasher, the city’s director of statelegislative affairs.The Legislature’s deadline to pass the budget was 12:01 a.m. Friday, when the state’s next fiscalyear begins. Lawmakers had hoped to finish a day early, a feat of punctuality that has not beenaccomplished since 1983, when Mr. Cuomo’s father, Mario M. Cuomo, was in his first year asgovernor.For much of Wednesday, they kept an early budget as their goal. But debate in the Assemblystretched past midnight, meaning that lawmakers had to be content with merely an on-timebudget. That was still a political triumph: only six times since 1975 had the state previouslypassed a spending plan by the time March turned into April.“This budget is a responsible budget that meets our goals of cutting spending, reducing taxes,and empowering the private sector to create jobs,” the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, aLong Island Republican, said in a statement. “By passing this budget on-time, we have shownthat Albany can be functional and accountable once again.”The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, described the budget as“sobering.”“The Assembly majority, working with the governor, was able to achieve some criticalrestorations that will soften the cuts affecting working families, students, senior citizens and our most vulnerable populations,” Mr. Silver said in a statement.The protesters at the Capitol spent the day arguing that the cuts in the budget needed far moresoftening.Outside the entrance to the Senate gallery, hundreds of people chanted about Mr. Cuomo’s cutsto schools and his opposition to extending a tax surcharge on wealthy New Yorkers. Surroundedby television cameras, a fourth grader from Saratoga County said she was worried about losinggifted-and-talented programs. A grandmother from Schenectady said Mr. Cuomo cared moreabout millionaires than schoolchildren.A few lawmakers came to express solidarity with the protesters. “Your voice is being heard inthe chambers, so continue to raise them,” said Senator Kevin S. Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat.Their demonstrations, which were organized by a number of advocacy groups, seemed at timesless than spontaneous. Organizers provided the news media with press releases detailing, on anhourly basis, who would be demonstrating about what issue and where they would be doing it. Italso promised a sleepover, complete with “a Capitol ghost hunt, Budget Twister and other formsof entertainment.”

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