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BUDGET TALKS STILL STYMIED IN ALBANY

No deal, again.

Budget talks ended Friday night after a full day of closed-door talks without a deal to end the impasse that has become the longest running drama at the Capitol.

Talks are slated again for Sunday and the sides expressed optimism a deal could be announced then.

A key sticking point remains prison construction. The Assembly had offered to build just 800 new prison beds; Gov. Pataki wants 7,000.

Sources close to the talks said the Assembly increased its offer to 1,550 new prison beds -- half in one new maximum security prison and the rest in four so-called drop-in centers that would hold 200 inmates apiece. Such facilities would be placed at existing prisons and would be for maximum security inmates.

But other sources noted the Assembly has not offered to build that many cells and that the sides are still far apart on an issue that has been unresolved for months.

Union leaders for prison guards, meanwhile, pressed to get as many new cells as possible. They cited recent inmate revolts or fights that led to prison guard injuries as proof that the system -- now 31 percent over capacity -- needs expansion.

"We need each and every cell they'll give us, but 800 beds is not enough," said Richard Abrahamson, president of Council 82.

Also still unresolved is welfare reform.

One sticking point continues to be how much welfare recipients moving to workfare are to be paid. Unions are strongly lobbying that they get at least minimum wage so employers would not try to use lesser-paid welfare workers to get rid of current employees.

Emerging from talks Friday evening, Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, said they were close to an agreement.

But the three leaders, who have all talked of opening up the budget process, continued their news blackout, saying leaks could jeopardize a deal being reached soon.

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