As budget talks continue, Republican and Democratic legislative leaders say far more money is available for spending and tax cuts than the governor has projected.
For on-time budget watchers, the good news is that the Assembly and Senate are close in their revenue expectations: the Assembly estimates the state will bring in $1.3 billion more than Gov. George E. Pataki projected, while the Senate puts the number at nearly $1.1 billion.
The numbers are so rosy, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, said Tuesday, that the state surplus could reach $4 billion this fiscal year and next year. Bruno said much of that should go to the massive tax-cut package the Senate has been rolling out in recent weeks.
In all, Senate Republicans, who face a concerted effort by Democrats in the fall elections to take control of the chamber, propose $1.3 billion in tax cuts in the coming year.
That includes $856 million that could be returned to taxpayers this year as property tax rebates. Checks would be mailed out before the fall elections.
The tax cuts would be worth $8.4 billion when fully phased in by the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Senate Republicans have embraced Pataki's controversial plan for an education tax credit that parents -- including those with children in schools affiliated with religious groups -- could apply to tuition, tutoring, supplies and other school costs.
Senate Republicans actually would go further than the governor, who proposed limiting the credit to localities where schools do not meet certain educational standards. The Senate plan would open up the tax break to parents across the state.
In January, the governor proposed a $110.6 billion budget for the state fiscal year that will begin April 1. Bruno said Tuesday the final budget would exceed $111 billion. Taxpayers will end up providing the state with $53.77 billion to $53.88 billion in the coming year, according to the Assembly and Senate estimates.
The Legislature and Pataki are rushing to complete a budget before the start of the fiscal year. Last year was the first time in a generation that the budget was approved on time.
This year, however, Pataki remains hospitalized nearly two weeks after his appendix was removed during emergency surgery, followed by a second operation after complications set in. Bruno insisted Pataki's health is not slowing work on the budget.