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Cuomo: 'Frightening' Trump policies could delay NY budget

ALBANY – New York's state budget could be adopted in phases, instead of all at once, under a plan Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo floated today.

He said he recognizes the uncertainty of federal fiscal policies under President Trump that could sharply affect the state’s finances.

The governor said the “extender” route would be taken if he and lawmakers cannot agree on “reasonable” spending, especially in the two biggest cost areas of education and health care.

Legislators on Tuesday night said Cuomo's idea was a negotiating tactic and that large parts of the budget are ready to go if a couple major issues – whether to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 and what method to use to lower the costs of college education for some students – are resolved. Another major issue still unresolved: whether to drive more money to charter schools, as Senate Republicans want, or into the traditional public school systems, as Assembly Democrats insist upon.

Cuomo has prized on-time or near on-time budgets by March 31 each year since taking office in 2011. And this extender route comes after he has been saying for months that a new state budget did not have to take into account possible loss of federal revenue because no one could predict what that number could be. It also comes after lawmakers in both houses signaled to Cuomo that timeliness this year is not necessarily one of the top prizes. The new fiscal year begins Saturday.

Cuomo said Trump’s budget plans are “frightening” for New York’s finances, and are likely to be made worse by the Republican-controlled Congress.

How long Cuomo and lawmakers might have to wait on Washington is among the great unknowns. The federal government’s fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1 – six months after Albany is due to get its financial plan adopted.

The governor said he is not interested in passing a budget now that then forces lawmakers to return and then cut spending for schools in the middle of their budget cycles. He said such mid-year cuts to schools would create “a state of chaos.’’

Cuomo made clear Tuesday that he is not willing to go along with a major state aid hike in education much beyond what he proposed in January. His near $1 billion state aid to schools amounted to a 4 percent increase, about 50 percent higher than the inflation rate. On the high end, Assembly Democrats proposed a $1.8 billion increase.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in an interview that he is open to considering a series of extenders to keep the pay the state’s bills after the new fiscal year starts. He said his support is contingent upon what Cuomo tries to put in the extender bills.

The annual confusion – for the public as well as people on the inside at the Capitol – was well underway Tuesday. Shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Democrats were told in a closed-door meeting that there would be no temporary budget extender measure.

In past administrations, extender measures could stretch for weeks. Cuomo floated that he could consider a one-week extender, or one lasting a month or as long as six months. Without a final budget in place, such measures are needed to pay such things as Medicaid services, nonprofit agencies that perform state services and payroll for more than 200,000 state workers.

Cuomo, who has been railing against “ultraconservatives” in Congress, stopped himself when he used the word “conservative” to describe the kind of budget he believes needs to be put together.

“I would rather either pass a budget with reasonable, caution, conservative, relative, I’m sorry. Let’s call it cautious financial outlays that could adjust to certain federal cuts … or just go the extender route which says let’s continue the budget, plus or minus, and then … when we have the facts then we pass a budget,’’ Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the key issue left in the budget talks is the level of spending and how it will address federal funding uncertainty.

Side policy issues have largely – "basically” – been agreed upon, he said.

These include legalization of ride-hailing, raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old, a big new borrowing program to improve water infrastructure in localities around the state and a program to provide free college education for some public university students.

Cuomo aides declined to provide any specifics, and lawmakers said those issues are still being negotiated.

Cuomo did give an early budget present to one group: direct care workers employed in nonprofit agencies that serve developmentally disabled people. The two houses already OK'd a deal to provide $45 million in state funding for raises for those workers. Cuomo said the final budget will see $55 million for the salary hikes.

Advocates for the raises have worked the issue since the state’s minimum wage has been rising and pushing some direct care workers to better-paying jobs at fast food restaurants.

“We are so pleased that Governor Cuomo vowed today not to sign the budget if it doesn’t have a living wage increase in it for our direct support professionals,” said Kevin Horrigan, associate vice president for People Inc., a Western New York social services agency. “With the support we have in the Senate and the Assembly thanks to all of our members from Western New York, we feel we are almost at the finish line.”

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