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In usual odd sign of looming deal, state budget talks turn ugly

ALBANY – The state budget is done.

Except it’s not.

That’s the claim Thursday morning from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, who said every item in the budget has been agreed to by the sides, but a final deal is being held up by a Brooklyn senator who is insisting on non-fiscal education policy changes.

“I’m not Moses. I’m not Jesus. I’m not that powerful,’’ said Sen. Simcha Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who has a one-man power sharing deal with Senate Republicans that puts him in an unusually strong position for any single lawmaker.

If Democrats gain the numerical edge in the Senate after two special election contests next month, which appears likely, it would take Felder to renounce his GOP alliance and join the Democrats for any ouster of the GOP.

“The question is based on the premise that I somehow have the power to hold things up,’’ Felder told a few reporters after Heastie pointed to him as the reason for the budget stalemate. Asked if that premise is wrong, Felder responded: “Absolutely, and if you don’t believe me ask my wife."

Heastie blamed Felder, and the Senate GOP, for holding up a final deal on a spending plan that will approach $170 billion. Felder, an orthodox Jew, has been seeking to relax curriculum standards for yeshivas.

Heastie said the issue Felder wants addressed is a matter for the state education department, not the Legislature. “That’s the very last issue that remains," Heastie said of the Felder demand.

Heastie, who is known for saying little to reporters on the record during negotiation periods at the Capitol, then held a second briefing for reporters just minutes after Felder spoke. The Bronx Democrat said he spoke with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and that both agreed they will not entertain emergency appropriation bills in order to keep the government funded. He said if the budget is late it will be the fault of Senate Republicans.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, dismissed Heastie's claims. "There are a number of unresolved issues, including the Assembly's top priority of giving themselves a pay raise,'' he said.

The new state fiscal year begins Sunday.

The dust-up came as some lawmakers are growing anxious about timing: A number want to leave within several hours for the start of Passover or for Good Friday.

Lawmakers have passed three budget bills over the past 12 hours. Another seven are needed to complete the budget.

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