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SOME FUNDING DEALS NEAR, BUT PATAKI VETOES UNCERTAIN

State budget negotiators reached tentative deals Monday on funding welfare-to-work programs and environmental protection efforts.

But legislators remained stalled on key economic development issues as Gov. George E. Pataki prepared to meet tonight's deadline to sign or veto portions of the new state budget.

Despite massive veto packages in previous years, government officials said they were not expecting the governor to engage in an extensive veto exercise even if certain deals aren't reached by today. Pataki administration officials said they remain concerned that the legislative budget is trying to take away too much power from the administration in running the state's economic development programs. They cautioned that veto options were still being presented to the governor.

"There is no agreement at this point," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said as he went into a closed-door meeting with his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican.

All the major budget decisions this year, as usual, have been made in private, and Monday was no exception.

Silver said Pataki has not assured him that there will not be major vetoes today.

"We're having a lot of good discussions, but right now we're nowhere," he said.

"We continue to have discussions, and we're confident we can get issues resolved prior to the veto deadline," Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said.

The Legislature on March 31 passed the first on-time budget since 1984. The $106.6 billion package, however, left out about $1.5 billion in spending initiatives because the governor would not resubmit legislation with corrections to enact the measures. They included about $300 million in day care funding for low-income families trying to stay off welfare and money for public and private college construction programs and the state's main environmental protection plan that funds everything from city parks to rural land acquisition.

Sources Monday said deals have been reached on the welfare programs. In addition, legislators and other state officials sent mixed signals whether there are deals reached yet to restrain the cost of the state's Medicaid program, a major demand of Pataki. The governor wants a commission to "right-size" health care facilities, which will lead to some hospital and nursing home closings, as well as further cuts to Medicaid recipients in the Family Health Plus program.

But the sides remained apart Monday evening on how much power the governor will have with economic development programs.

The Legislature altered one controversial program -- Empire Zones -- so that Pataki no longer controls the process by which news zones are created. In another area, the sides are fighting over control of pots worth hundreds of millions of dollars for unspecified economic development efforts.

Silver said Monday that the Assembly will not budge on the economic development reforms that are part of the 2005 state budget -- changes that cut into Pataki's ability to put Empire Zones in whatever parts of the state his administration chooses.

"The reforms are necessary. It's been proven over and over again, in different parts of the state, that the abuses cannot continue," Silver said.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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