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Assembly Democrats, Senate Republicans at odds with Cuomo over school aid

ALBANY – With set-your-clock accuracy, lawmakers are beginning to outline their budget priorities, including calls Monday by Assembly Democrats to expand school aid funding without the linkages Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed for more rigorous teacher evaluations and other major education policy changes.

Before final passage of the real budget, the State Senate and Assembly will use their one-house budget plans to stake out negotiating positions and give fiscal shout-outs to causes and groups they support. The biggest beneficiary appears to be public schools, as both Assembly Democrats and State Senate Republicans will call for major education aid hikes over Cuomo’s plan, sources said Monday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive timing of the budget talks.

In the Democrat-held Assembly, more money for housing programs, college aid for children of illegal immigrants, pre-kindergarten classes and a higher minimum wage are set to be unveiled on Tuesday.

In the Republican-led Senate, lawmakers there want nothing to do with such plans as the immigrant child college proposal, but they are again advancing an idea to especially benefit private schools with a new education tax credit.

Where February brought Cuomo raising threats about no budget deals without lawmakers embracing his plans to bolster ethics rules for the Legislature, Monday saw legislative leaders, before and after a private meeting with the governor, embracing happy budget talk.

“I’m very confident we will get there with a strong ethics package and also have an on-time budget,” said State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican.

“We feel like we’re having good conversations with the governor,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said before a brief session with Cuomo and State Senate leaders. He said the Assembly is largely in agreement with Cuomo’s budget plan. “It’s just the amounts and ranges maybe differ a little,” he said.

Indeed, they differ by a lot. Assembly Democrats later this week will pass a non-binding resolution calling for a $1.8 billion increase in state education aid. Their budget plan will also drop Cuomo’s idea to give schools more funding if there is a deal on a new teacher evaluation system and other changes in public school operations; Cuomo proposed a $1.1 billion hike for the state’s 700 school districts if the policy changes are approved and $377 million if they are not.

In the State Senate, Republicans want to up the Assembly’s ante on school aid, sources said, and will propose a $1.9 billion funding increase. About $1 billion of the extra money would do away with the Gap Elimination Adjustment, an annual funding grab by Albany of money marked for public schools.

Assembly Democrats also want a higher minimum wage than Cuomo proposed, and this week will pass a one-house budget raising the current $8.75 level to $10.50 by the end of next year and $12.60 in 2018. Cuomo has proposed a higher level for New York City, which the Assembly is seeking to expand to Long Island and Westchester County, and to $12.50 by the end of next year and $15 an hour at the end of 2018.

The State Senate Republicans are so far standing united with Assembly Democrats on not introducing Cuomo’s recent amendments to his budget that lawmakers say oversteps the line of budget-crafting.

“There’s a lot to look at,” said Heastie of the amendments that are typically quickly introduced soon after a governor makes them public. But he suggested the dispute is being blown up by the media.

Heastie will unveil a list of Assembly fiscal priorities Tuesday, including $456 million in restorations to schools funding, along with a $1 billion hike in the funding formula for schools, expansion of child care at state universities, and a program for foster children wishing to attend college who are aging out of the state’s care system.

Of the Assembly’s school aid hike that rejects Cuomo’s policy links, Heastie said, “We must help our children to succeed, not punish them because they may live in poorer communities or deny their schools the funding they need to improve the learning environment.”

A Cuomo spokeswoman, responding to the Assembly Democratic plan, said Cuomo “will not continue the failed strategy of throwing money at a broken education bureaucracy that has failed hundreds of thousands of New York’s children for years without meaningful reform and accountability.”