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State budget hits roadblocks over 'Excluded Workers Fund,' mobile sports betting

State budget hits roadblocks over 'Excluded Workers Fund,' mobile sports betting

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (high-res) (copy)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo 

ALBANY – A final set of spending and tax bills failed to get approved Monday at the state Capitol, as talks continued over a plan to legalize mobile sports gambling and an effort to drive more than $2 billion to migrants in the country illegally and former prisoners who did not qualify for Covid-19 relief programs over the past year.

Lawmakers in the Democratic-run houses huddled for another day and night in private party conferences. Meanwhile, their fiscal staffs negotiated with Cuomo administration budget advisers in search of final deals that would open the backlog of budget bills to go before the Senate and Assembly for final votes.

The budget was due March 31 and thousands of state workers are likely to see late paychecks this week.

Cuomo declares a 'conceptual' budget agreement

In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a “conceptual agreement” had been reached with legislative leaders.

However, a number of fiscal and policy areas are still open and no one could predict when the Legislature – originally due to be on vacation this week – will adopt a budget that Cuomo will sign into law.

In something resembling a pre-final deal victory lap, Cuomo said a number of items he wanted – including a “green energy” plan, making broadband internet more affordable to low-income and hard-to-serve areas and nursing home staffing changes – will be a part of the final budget. He did not elaborate on the specifics.

“It’s been a complicated process on top of a complicated product, but this budget will set the trajectory for the state for the next 10 years," Cuomo said of a more than $200 billion plan – fueled with a major influx of federal bailout funds. He said the budget addresses normal state financing needs, along with a rebuilding effort from the Covid-19-hit economy.

Democrats split over 'Excluded Workers Fund'

The budget talks have created sharp tensions within the Senate and Assembly Democratic conferences, which dominate the two legislative houses. At the heart of the increasingly public intraparty schism is the “Excluded Workers Fund," which could provide as much as $27,000 in benefits to some people who are living in the country illegally without documents and people who were let out of prison after October 2019.

On Monday night, lawmakers were told in private meetings that former prisoners were being dropped from the proposal.

The matter is being pushed by New York City Democrats, who make up most of the Democrats in the Legislature’s majority; the most liberal of those members say the affected workers pay state taxes and are important parts of the New York economy who were left out of federal aid programs, such as unemployment, over the past year during the pandemic. Some laid off workers did not qualify for federal aid programs because of their immigration status, or, in the case of recently released ex-prisoners, did not have time to build up a work history.

One of the supporters, Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, suggested he would block bills introduced by Senate opponents of the effort through the health committee he chairs. He said many Assembly Democrats don’t believe the “racist hogwash” of some moderate Assembly Democrats, adding on Twitter Monday that the effort to kill the Excluded Workers Fund from the budget “reeks of privilege and contempt.”

But some upstate and suburban New York City Democrats are concerned that the idea does not include ways in which to verify that eligible recipients qualify for unemployment and other benefits. Additionally, they worry that the spending increases expected in a new budget will not afford some Covid-19-affected people and businesses with relief they need.

Talks continue over mobile sports betting

Talks have been ongoing over efforts to legalize mobile sports betting in New York. Sports betting is allowed if wagers are placed in person at the state’s four commercial casinos or the ones owned and run by tribes, including the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The sides are still trying to resolve several issues, including how many mobile betting app partners for the casinos will be permitted. An issue has developed in which the Oneida Indian Nation – which has a differently worded casino compact with the state than the Seneca Nation – said one mobile sports betting plan being negotiated would cause the state to “breach” a 2013 deal with the tribe. That agreement gives it gambling exclusivity in a 10-county region in return for sharing a portion of its slot revenues, about $70 million a year, with the state.

The issue involves how an online sports wager is treated within that exclusivity zone if the Oneida Nation is not part of a new internet sports betting system. The Cuomo administration and state Senate Democrats say they want all tribes, including the Senecas, to be a part of any mobile sports betting program. The Seneca Nation has not commented on the issue.

Cuomo said he is also steadfast in his demand that any sports betting program be overseen by the state in a Lottery-like system that will see the state choose an operator or two – he only mentioned DraftKings and FanDuel – to run the gambling venture. Under his plan, computer servers would be placed at eligible casinos with most of the profits going to the state.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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