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State budget deal may take shape today<br> 'Conceptual agreement' sketchy as governor, lawmakers seek to end fiscal dance

A deal could be announced today on a 2011-12 state budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1.

The "conceptual agreement," as one lawmaker called it, is likely to be sketchy on details because the sides still must finish negotiating a number of key issues.

As a sign of an eagerness to end the fiscal dance, the sides are dropping items off the table that are not directly related to the budget, including a stalled proposal to cap annual local property tax increases and a downstate rent-control measure.

Also dead, again, is a plan to raise taxes on millionaires as a way to reduce some proposed spending cuts to education, health care and human service programs.

"It's off the table. It's gone. It's done. It's dead," Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, said of an expiring income tax surcharge that under a Democratic proposal would be extended for people earning more than $1 million a year.

Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, appeared to box themselves in to making a budget announcement today.

"I'm very optimistic that we're going to be able to announce a conceptual agreement, hopefully even more than a conceptual agreement, [today]," Skelos said after a closed-door meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Silver.

"I told them I'm hopeful of closing the budget [today]," Silver said after a brief session with Assembly Democrats.

Cuomo did not talk with reporters after the budget talks, but a spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said the sides are working toward a timely and "amicable" resolution.

Lawmakers were talking about a furious push to get a budget before the March 31 deadline. The last time that happened was in 1983 -- when Cuomo's father, Mario M. Cuomo, was in his first year as governor.

A number of details, such as which upstate prisons might close, are not yet resolved, according to lawmakers. If a deal is announced today, it wouldn't be known until next week how much the budget would, for instance, provide for individual school districts. Legislators said they expect the final budget to restore more than $200 million from the $1.5 billion cut in school aid proposed by Cuomo, a level that districts say would still cause teacher layoffs and program cutbacks.

The exit of the property tax cap plan from the budget talks provided an immediate source of attack for Senate Democrats. They issued a statement while Cuomo, Skelos and Silver were meeting, criticizing Senate Republicans for not getting the cap through the budget.

"Upstate Republicans have a big bark, but they don't have much of a bite," said Senate Democratic Conference spokesman Travis Proulx.

The tone by the two legislative leaders was decidedly more upbeat than the one used Wednesday by Cuomo, who sharpened his advance criticism of the Legislature in the event the budget is not approved by the March 31 deadline.

"I don't think there's any kind of government shutdown that's in the offing," Silver said of Cuomo's warning about what would occur if talks don't produce a deal.

The three-men-in-a-room meeting took place as teachers union and school superintendent representatives dropped 40,000 postcards outside the governor's office calling for restorations to the proposed $1.5 billion cut to public schools.


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