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No SUNY tuition hike coming in 2016-17, Cuomo suggests as budget talks progress

ALBANY – The State University of New York will not be granted authority to increase tuition in the coming year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated Tuesday afternoon.

SUNY has been pushing for renewal of the five-year “rational” tuition program that has led to $300 hikes for in-state undergraduate students in each of the years. Without it, SUNY would not have the authority to increase tuition levels in the 2016-17 academic year.

“I don’t believe they will renew it this year,” Cuomo said of lawmakers in a briefing with reporters in his office Tuesday afternoon.

Cuomo said he still supports the tuition policy he pushed through five years ago but said the sides are now looking at additional funding for the statewide college system.

The governor was vague on a number of topics, but he said a business tax plan will total more than the $300 million one he proposed in January. Such tax cuts are intended to soothe business complaints about a looming agreement to increase the minimum wage.

Asked repeatedly, Cuomo would not say if the final deal will raise the maximum level – in stages – to $15 across the state.

Legislative leaders revealed no details about the state budget they are putting together when they emerged Tuesday afternoon from a meeting with Cuomo.

“You guys pretty much know all the issues that have been discussed,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, told reporters outside Cuomo’s office.

Heastie took things a step further, saying of the final budget: “There’s going to be nothing new for you guys to really cover.”

That’s unlikely.

Saying there are still final details to work out, legislative leaders did not give specifics about how a long-term hike in the minimum wage will work, how workers will be eligible for a new paid family leave program, how much aid will be available for public schools, whether there will be a hike in state university tuition and whether upstate roads and bridge funding will be at “parity” with downstate transit spending.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said the final budget will include a “record increase” in aid to the state’s 700 school districts. He would not elaborate.

Flanagan, agreeing with Heastie, said: “There’s a lot of things that are very, very close.”

The legislative leaders said they expect budget bills to start to be made public sometime Tuesday night, though that remains very much up in the air. For the budget to be on time, the plan has be passed Thursday.

Beyond the major items, a host of under-the-radar issues were still under wraps. Negotiators are said to be close on a deal to provide state-funded rebates to consumers who buy zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, such as electric cars. One number being discussed Tuesday is a $2,000-per-car rebate. The sides also are looking to use part of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund for more infrastructure spending on such things as battery recharging stations.

The Buffalo News recently quoted the top air quality official in California, as well as environmental advocates in New York, saying that the Cuomo administration had to step up initiatives to encourage zero-emission vehicle sales if it is to meet the goals of a pact Cuomo made with other states for the purchase of a certain number of zero-emission vehicles by 2025.

The final hours were producing some winners and looming losers, as well as leaving some government watchdogs and big and small companies upset with the secrecy surrounding the budget talks. Behind glass doors outside Cuomo’s office, protestors shouted as Heastie and Flanagan spoke; they are lobbying for more money for AIDS programs.

On the corporate side, Chip Davis, the president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, provided what he called a “real world example of the lack of transparency” in the Albany budget negotiations.

Davis said the Washington-based trade group is hearing the governor and lawmakers are on the verge of finalizing a deal that would be what he called a $23 million penalty on generic drug companies that participate in the state’s Medicaid program.

Davis said the higher-rebate generic manufacturers would have to pay the state – or what he termed a penalty would kick in at certain levels if a generic drug price is raised. But Davis said the companies making branded drugs are, to his knowledge, not being affected by the same fiscal hit by Albany. He said generic drugs account for 88 percent of the prescriptions in New York in 2014, but 72 percent of the costs came from branded drug prices.

“Apparently, the governor’s office, in dealing with the Legislature, is not interested in addressing that underlying problem but would rather penalize this sector. … It just doesn’t seem to make sense to us,” Davis said.

Heastie and Flanagan on Tuesday were briefing their party caucuses in closed-door meetings on the latest deals they struck with Cuomo.

Senate Independent Conference leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who was the only other legislative leader in Tuesday’s meeting with Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie, said he is confident the final fiscal deal is going to produce “the best” budget in memory.