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Rival state budgets pass Brown and Giambra try for more aid

The State Senate and Assembly proposed Monday to add billions of dollars in spending and make additional tax cuts in Gov. George E. Pataki's proposed budget, while rejecting several of the governor's proposals.

The legislative funding wish list in an election year for all 212 state lawmakers would increase funding for cities such as Buffalo, provide more aid to poorer school districts and pump millions of dollars into construction projects at Buffalo State College and the University at Buffalo.

Both houses also would reduce money Pataki had earmarked for Erie County. The governor had proposed $18 million for the county and $2 million for Buffalo, while the Assembly would provide each with $10 million and the Senate would give the county $13 million and the city $7 million.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown asked state officials Monday to increase the total to $30 million -- split equally by the city and county, which would try to spend money on "joint projects."

"This is the first major collaboration between us," Giambra said of the effort to end the practice by the city and county to seek more funds at the other's expense. "We decided to avoid a fight."

The houses began adopting separate budget bills Monday and were expected to form conference committees today to begin the somewhat public task of reconciling the measures. The committees will try to complete their work by April 1, the start of the state's new fiscal year, but that depends on compromises in coming weeks.

"This starts the process toward getting a budget done on time," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, told his colleagues before they approved the budget package Monday.

The markedly different measures would boost spending from the $110.6 billion proposed by Pataki, with the Senate's plan totaling $111.8 billion and the Assembly's $112.4 billion.

John Cape, the governor's budget director, disputed the numbers. He said the Senate plan actually would end up costing $112.9 billion, while the Assembly's would hit $113.6 billion, a 7 percent increase from this year.

Still recovering at home from complications that followed of his recent appendectomy, Pataki criticized the Legislature for rejecting almost all his proposals to control Medicaid cost and said the plans "spend far too much and reform too little."

The Senate turned down the governor's plan to raise the state's cigarette tax by $1 to $2.50 per pack, with Bruno saying such an increase would be "aiding and abetting those that smuggle and cheat" through the sales of tax-free cigarettes.

Both houses rejected another year's delay in collecting taxes on cigarette sales by Indians to non-Indians. Under a new law, collections were to begin March 1. But the state Department of Taxation and Finance has held off on enforcing the law pending discussions with the Legislature on delaying the collection until next spring -- after Pataki leaves office.

The Assembly's budget would takes matters a step further by requiring tobacco wholesalers to turn in their licenses June 30. They would get new licenses only if they showed they had sold no tax-free cigarettes between the budget's passage and June 30.

Both houses would provide big increases in state aid to public schools, though the Assembly Democrats said only their plan complies with a landmark court decision requiring the state to revamp its school aid formula.

The Senate would raise spending on schools by about $1.1 billion from this year, while the Assembly would provide an additional $1.2 billion. Buffalo Public Schools would get $17 million more under the Assembly plan than what Pataki proposed.

The two houses put aside Pataki's proposal to allow the State University of New York to raise tuition by $500. They also rejected Pataki's call to tighten eligibility requirements for the Tuition Assistance Program.

The Legislature called for a big SUNY construction budget. The Assembly approved giving the University at Buffalo $25 million -- on top of $25 million last year -- for a new engineering building.

Under the plans of both houses, Buffalo State College would get $40 million for a new facility for its technology and computing departments, with state-of-the art lab space and other amenities.

The Assembly also proposes to give Buffalo State $4 million for initial design and other work on a new $30 million stadium for its football, soccer and field hockey teams. The stadium, with artificial turf, eight track lanes and seating for 5,000, would replace the aging Coyer Field and would be available for teams from Buffalo Public Schools.

In health care, legislators restored most of Pataki's cuts and increased Medicaid reimbursement for emergency room treatment. They also rejected Pataki's plan to block an inflation adjustment in rates for hospitals.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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