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33 arrested at protest as talks narrow differences on budget

Pieces of the less controversial areas of the state budget began slowly coming together Wednesday, while protesters shut down the main access point to the governor's office in a bid to undo some of the looming spending cuts.

State police reported 33 arrests.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was traveling at the time of the protest, continued to send mixed messages about the budget talks: He said negotiations are going well, but sought to blame the Legislature in advance if a budget is not adopted by next Thursday's deadline. He again floated the idea of making his spending cuts in an emergency bill if the budget is late, forcing lawmakers to choose between his plan or shutting down the government.

The governor's sharp words -- in a new video and at an appearance in Syracuse -- appeared to confuse lawmakers, who say that behind the scenes, the sides are getting along and pushing to close the budget.

"I didn't see it, and I don't see any reason for it. I believe we are moving ahead on an appropriate pace to have an on-time budget," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

Asked about Cuomo blaming lawmakers for any shutdown, Silver said: "I don't think that's relevant. I don't think we should be talking about it. I think we should be talking about reaching the finish line at an appropriate time."

The State Senate and Assembly closed down several less controversial areas of the budget, including environment, agriculture and housing.

Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican and chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, said the deal calls for financing specific projects with money from the Environmental Protection Fund, including $300,000 for the Buffalo waterfront, $100,000 for an aerating system at Hoyt Lake, $250,000 for the Darwin Martin House and $250,000 for the Olmsted Parks.

Lawmakers also said they restored money for everything from a tractor rollover safety program for farmers to $206,000 for the state's apple growers and $100,000 for maple syrup producers.

Faculty and students from the City University of New York, meanwhile, staged the protest, calling for an extension of an income tax surcharge on those with high incomes to restore funding for higher education and other programs.

"Tax the rich, not the poor," they chanted as troopers arrested 33 on charges of disorderly conduct.

"It's good for the community to express their frustration. This shows not everybody agrees with [Cuomo]. His popularity is going to come down," said State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, who joined the protesters for a brief time.

The sides have still not agreed on public school and Medicaid spending.

Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, said the Senate will accept up to six prison closings, as long as they are spread between Democratic and Republican legislative districts and are not limited to upstate.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com