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$1 billion more in school funding could be part of state budget as talks intensify

ALBANY – Tentative deals have been reached on parts of a new state budget, including about $1 billion in additional funding for public schools, a work-around for some higher-income New Yorkers to reduce the impact of new federal tax deduction limits, and a freeze on what Albany sends to local governments around the state.

Negotiators cautioned that final deals on those matters and others depend on the terms of the overall state budget that is set to come together in the next several days. The budget is due March 31, though the start of religious holidays on Friday has the sides pressing to get a budget passed before then.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and three legislative leaders met for two hours behind closed doors at the state Capitol late Sunday afternoon.

“I couldn’t tell you before I tell them,’’ Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said after he left the meeting to prepare for another closed-door session Sunday night with his fellow Assembly Democrats.

Talks, he said, were proceeding “in a good-faith manner.’’

After briefing Assembly Democrats, in which he laid out a number of the tentative deals lawmakers will be asked to approve later this week, Heastie cautioned reporters. “Things could change,’’ he said.

“We’ve agreed we’re going to get it done on-time, and we’re still finalizing a whole bunch of fiscal and appropriation matters,’’ Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said earlier in the day after departing private talks with Cuomo and legislative leaders.

Still to be determined is a final state aid number for New York’s 700 public school districts. A district-by-district allotment, based on a highly complex formula that can change from year to year, won’t come until later in the week. Lawmakers are being told the overall, statewide education aid amount will increase by about $1 billion to more than $26.5 billion.

Flanagan said the sides are “getting close” on a plan to try to end-run the effects of a new federal tax law that ends the ability to fully deduct state and local tax payments, such as property taxes. New York is one of a handful of states – all Democratic-dominated – that are being hit by the new tax deduction restrictions.

Cuomo has pushed a new payroll tax plan to put less reliance property taxes – especially important downstate, with its higher incomes and higher property taxes in the New York City suburbs. He has also proposed creation of new state and local charitable organizations which affected taxpayers could make payments to instead of, for instance, paying school district property taxes. The charitable donations would be fully deductible under the new federal tax law – assuming the Internal Revenue Service does not block the idea.

In an election year and with the Senate possibly looking to flip control from the GOP to Democrats, what gets pulled out of the budget and left for decisions later in the session is almost as intriguing as what goes into the final spending plan.

The non-budget matters that became embroiled in the budget include new sexual harassment laws, expanding the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse cases, stronger gun control and school safety laws, and relaxing cash bail requirements for those charged with lesser crimes.

“It’s still a huge issue. We’re paying attention to it in painstaking detail,’’ Flanagan said of school safety proposals. But the Senate and Assembly have stalled over the extent to which – or whether – there should be new gun control measures.

Cuomo did not talk about the state of budget talks on Sunday.

Assembly Democrats were told by Heastie Sunday night that a range of non-fiscal matters was dropping off the table. “For the people who want no policy in the budget, they’re going to get it,’’ said one source with knowledge of the talks. But it appeared at least one of the non-fiscal issues – bolstering laws dealing with sexual harassment in both the public and private sectors – is alive and expected to be a part of the final state budget deal.

In Albany, nothing relating to the budget is over until the final votes are cast and lawmakers are on the Thruway to go home. Advocates on a slew of issues will be pressuring the sides to insert their causes into the budget. Advocates of a measure permitting additional opportunities for victims of child abuse to sue their abusers, for instance, are presenting Senate Republicans a petition Monday signed by 100,000 supporters.

Lawmakers were told Sunday night that Cuomo and the legislative leaders expect to begin printing budget bills Monday evening. Once again, they are hopeful to get the budget passed without bypassing the state Constitution’s requirement that bills “age” a minimum of three days before voting in order to give the public – and lawmakers – an idea about what is being approved. Seldom has the state budget in recent decades passed, however, without resorting to “messages of necessity” by the governor to bypass the constitutional requirement.

Senate Republicans are due back in Albany Monday for the private briefing like the one given to Assembly Democrats on Sunday night. At that point, spending plans will start to get locked down.

Under tentative plans laid out Sunday, the budget is unlikely to include major changes to increase transparency of the state’s economic development programs, such as those that will be the subject of a federal corruption trial in June that includes how one of the major Buffalo Billion program’s projects was awarded.

The budget is set to include, sources said, a surcharge on ride-hailing trips in a large part of Manhattan as part of an initial plan to deal with increasing traffic congestion in the borough; it was uncertain Sunday what will happen with requests from upstate transit agencies for additional funding. Funding for higher education programs, including requests by the State University of New York and community colleges for money above and beyond what Cuomo proposed, was still on the table, lawmakers said.

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