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Gov. Cuomo, Lawmakers Down To The Wire On Budget Agreement

Karen DeWitt

Lawmakers worked toward a budget deal on Monday as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated he’s making some concessions on the minimum wage.

Governor Cuomo says he’d like budget agreements to come early enough so that all of the bills can be passed by the April 1st deadline. He says he does not want to use "a message of necessity" to pass bills faster, if agreements come late, but he has not ruled out that possibility altogether.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get there on time,” Cuomo said, speaking at an Easter Sunday egg hunt at the Executive Mansion in Albany.

The budget issue that’s gained most attention is the governor’s push to phase in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Cuomo was asked about reports that the minimum wage for upstate might be lower than $15, perhaps as low as $12.50 or $13. Cuomo would not confirm that, but says his plan already calls for a longer phase in to $15 for regions outside New York City, and he concedes talks have focused on treating upstate differently than downstate.

“Some states have three rates, some states have even more,” said Cuomo. “So we anticipate a different rate to get to 15. And obviously there’s a variety of ways that you can get there.”

Pro-minimum wage groups are holding a 24-hour vigil at the Capitol. Reverend Emily McNeill, with the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition, says Governor Cuomo already is proposing a nearly six-year phase in for the $15 rate upstate, and any longer would be unacceptable.  

“They will not allow families to support themselves,” McNeill said.

The minimum wage advocates aren’t the only ones at the Capitol as the budget deal draws near. Proponents of the governor’s goal to end AIDS in New York by 2020 also came to protest.

They say the governor announced his plan in June 2014, nearly two years ago, but since then has not put any significant money into the budget. They say this year Cuomo has only placed $10 to $15 million dollars in the state spending plan.

Reginald Brown, with VOCAL-NY, says at least $70 million is needed, $50 million to fund crucial housing programs for people living with HIV or AIDS. Using the mic check style of call and response made popular by the Occupy movement, Brown says he and other activists will stay night and day to pressure lawmakers to add the funds.

“We will stay here and risk arrest and civil disobedience to honor 100,000 of those that we have lost,” said Brown, his voice breaking. “This is going to stop now.”

They say they will spend the time reading the names of New Yorkers who have died of AIDS.

While the groups, as well as reporters and lobbyists wait to hear news of a final deal on the budget, government reform groups condemned the decision making process as being more secretive than ever. Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, says even the closed door, three men in a room leaders meetings, criticized for their secrecy, are no longer even announced.

"We (already) have a culture of corruption here in Albany," Bartoletti said. "We can now say that there is absolutely no openness to this budget."

Bartoletti and other government reform groups say they are also disappointed that the budget will not include any ethics reform, despite the conviction of the two former legislative leaders on multiple corruption charges. 

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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