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Business groups on budget: NY not "open for business''

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Business groups, which have been supportive of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's first two budgets, are not happy today with the still-to-be-passed 2013 state budget.

In short, they are critical of the budget's failure to repeal a surcharge on energy companies that gets passed onto consumers, for hiking the minimum wage, and for taking no dramatic actions to reduce state-imposed mandates on local governments.

From the Buffalo Niagara Partnership: "We are very disappointed with this budget agreement and with the people who negotiated it. The outcome of their closed-door work not only will further erode the economy of upstate New York, but will also significantly blunt the impact of a number of the agreed-upon priorities in Governor Cuomo's high-profile economic initiatives, including our region's "Buffalo Billion.'' No rhetorical lipstick can gloss over this unfortunate reality.  It also confirms to business decision-makers around the world that the state is not yet 'open for business.' "

Continue reading "Business groups on budget: NY not "open for business'' " »

Today's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

Today I am starting a new Politics Now feature: a daily list of must-reads that I've come across here in the nation's capital.

First, The Washington Post explores whether President Obama is undercutting his own agenda:

Meanwhile, Politico asks the question: what ever happened to Paul Ryan?

And the Los Angeles Times notes that the chief justice's lesbian cousin will be watching as the Supreme Court considers gay marriage:,0,834185.story



Video: Week in Washington - Gay marriage and guns

Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski will be covering arguments in two gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court this week, as well as looking at possible legal challenges to New York's gun law.

UPDATE: State Senate sets Sunday budget votes

By Tom Precious


ALBANY -- The Senate is now saying anchors away. They are coming back Sunday at 3 p.m. to begin passing the budget bills that were printed days ago (like the capital, public protection and general government and legislative budget bills). So what about the ones still hanging out there that affects millions of New Yorkers, like state aid to education? Or the big revenue bill with all its (mostly back-loaded into 2014) tax cuts? Or the minimum wage hike?

Well, we haven't seen those yet, and if they aren't in print by tonight that means the Senate won't be able to take them up even on Tuesday. That is unless, of course, Cuomo gives the Senate a message of necessity to avoid having to let those bills age three business days. That's the message of necessity power he used in January to quickly get the gun control bill onto the floor, a route still being criticized, including in lawsuits, by gun control advocates. Cuomo has said he has "no plans'' to give such a message with the budget. Key word: "plans."

And, as any good insider must be wondering: how are they going to work out the school runs? Those are documents that details, in tiny type and many lines, the various pots of money that all add up to how much money each school district in the state will get in the budget. There is no better kept, and time-honored secret, than the annual school run process. It is the most bread and butter moment for rank-and-file lawmakers; few lawmakers may read the thousands of pages of the state budget, but all of them read every last line of the school runs because they know there is nothing else in the fiscal plan that so directly affects so many constituents.

The documents are put together in secret by only a few staffers who actually understand how the formula works. Then the documents are locked up in a room at the state education department across the street from the Capitol until both Senate and Assembly staffers are called to bring the school run documents on carts at the exact same moment to be delivered to anxious senators and members of the Assembly.

So, under the Senate's thinking with their budget adoption schedule, Senate staffers say they will be releasing the school runs when the education budget bill is adopted, which they say could be in the early morning hours of Tuesday. That's two days before Assembly members return to town.

One has to wonder, given the strangeness of how this process is playing out during what was to be a vacation week for lawmakers: how many legislators have non-refundable travel tickets?


It's been called the "easy'' budget, the "boring'' budget, the "simple'' budget.

Not so.

Lawmakers were to return Sunday afternoon to start passing budget bills and wrap up things on Monday. But Assembly officials are now saying the return of lawmakers has been put off until Thursday at 10:30am. (That's when a small window opens during the Passover Jewish holiday and the day before the Good Friday Christian holiday.)

Things did not look good this morning when the internal bill tracking system was down and by this afternoon showed that none of the remaining budget bills -- key ones, like education and revenue bills -- were in by midnight last night to let them age for three days for passage on Monday.

No word from the Senate yet on its timetable, but it takes two to make a budget. (See update above for how strange this 2013 budget process is becoming.) News of the Assembly not coming back was confirmed in an email from Mike Whyland, the spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Whyland said, though, that there are no major problems, but it has come down to a scheduling issue.

Recall that it was Wednesday evening when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they had reached a deal on the 2012 budget and were talking about budget bills being passed starting on Saturday -- as in yesterday.

The sides have been stuck on some final tax break matters, relaxing marijuana laws and other provisions. And there has been no sign of specific state aid numbers for the state's 700 school districts.

Budget will strengthen teacher evaluation plan process

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The slowly emerging state budget will include a provision that permanently locks into place teacher evaluation deals for New York’s 700 school districts, a senior Cuomo administration official said Friday.

The new idea would end the legal and, more importantly, financial threat this year that districts faced to either have new teacher and principal evaluation plans ratified or risk losing scheduled state aid funding increases. The senior Cuomo aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new hammer over schools and unions will be included in the 2013 state budget.

The budget will also require those handful of districts that did not make teacher evaluation deals with their unions by last January – the largest being New York City and the only one in Western New York being Hamburg – to have agreements in place by May or the state education department will impose one in June.

The teacher evaluation system, which includes mandatory use of student standardized test scores as part of the scoring system, was a major push last year by Cuomo and lawmakers. Cuomo insisted on the financial penalty language that held back state aid increases to districts that did not have a deal in place by last January.

Hamburg lost out on $450,000 in new state aid, but district Superintendent Steven Achramovitch said the money is due to come soon while a lawsuit over the issue brought in New York City is litigated. The senior Cuomo administration official, speaking this afternoon at the Capitol, said the new plan will ensure the evaluation deals do not lapse.

In the first year of the program, many districts enacted just one-year plans.

“Once the plan is in place the plan does not sunset anywhere unless a new plan is put in place,’’ the official said. The official said it ends the financial threat against districts that don’t get evaluation deals in place. “That means the plans are here to stay. They’re going to be here every year,’’ the official said.


Video: Is Gov. Cuomo Vulnerable?

A new poll shows Cuomo's approval rating sliding from his all-time high. News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy tells Brian Meyer some Republican leaders are thinking ahead to the next gubernatorial election:

CitiStat Fire Live Blog 11 a.m.

By Jill Terreri

I'll be live blogging the CitiStat meeting with the Fire Department today, which is set to start shortly after 11 a.m.

UPDATE: Technical difficulties are preventing a live blog from happening. I will write a blog of the event after it's over. I apologize for the delay.

UPDATE: The liveblog is up and running, sorry for the delay.

UDATE: Before I could start blogging, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, Corporation Counsel Tim Ball and Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield talked about the vacancies in the department and how many people who pass a civil service exam are then disqualified from jobs in the department because they fail to meet other requirements of the job. Casey questioned whether the city could screen people who take the exam so it doesn't happen so often. Ball said people can't be prohibited from taking the test but some things could be done so that everyone's time isn't wasted. This is more practical when there are smaller numbers of test-takers, Balls said, not when 5,000 people sit for an exam.


It's official: Wait til Sunday for budget votes to start

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Forget Saturday. The Assembly is telling rank-and-file members to forget about coming back to Albany on Saturday to start passing budget votes. Now, they are being told of a 4pm session on Sunday. They hope to wrap up voting on Monday, though if things don't go well there is a window of opportunity -- Passover holiday-wise -- next Thursday and into Friday to complete things.

The Senate has not yet decided to delay a return until Sunday, a spokesman said this morning. Officially, Senate is still on for Saturday. UPDATE: Senators have now been told they do not have to return to Albany until Sunday at 4pm.

Only one budget bill made it into print last night -- the capital bill, which outlines billions in various known and unknown capital projects around the state, including $54 million for the state's share of the renovation of the Buffalo Bills stadium.

Then there's a mystery provision at the bottom of the bill that has budget watchers scratching their heads. It calls for $385 million for capital costs of "construction, improvement, rehabilitation, or reconstruction of facilities owned by the state or municipal corporations, including colleges. Not sure yet is: does the governor control how the money is spent, does it include private colleges and what projects are envisioned. We have those questions into the Cuomo administration and will let you know when we know.


Video: Tom Precious interviews Dean Skelos about the state budget

State Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos answers questions about fiscal issues in the state budget.

Skelos talks budget, minimum wage

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Senate’s top Republican said a slowly improving economy and tax breaks for businesses changed his long-held view that the state’s minimum wage should not be raised.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, noted that businesses will get a tax deduction to cover the costs associated for their teenage employees who will see the wage going from $7.25 to $8 per hour in January and then to $9 by January 2016. (How much that funding pot will total has not been resolved.)

Skelos said tips workers will also see their wages held flat. Between not hiking the pay of tips workers and having the state give tax breaks to companies with teenage workers, Skelos said about 40 percent of employees at the minimum wage level will end up affecting the payroll expenses of their employers because of the minimum wage deal.

Asked the theory behind government subsidizing the payrolls of employers with teenage workers affected by the rate increase, Skelos said, “We wanted to have a youth wage, which would have made sure young people get 85 percent of the minimum wage, which was supported by many in the industry. The Assembly didn’t want to do it, so we came up with an alternative to make sure young people have the opportunities to get jobs and businesses are protected.’’

Skelos said a number of new business taxes -– affecting small companies, manufacturers and others – will benefit from the budget deal tentatively announced Wednesday night. But Skelos, in an interview with The Buffalo News Thursday afternoon, acknowledged the tax deals are still not closed down. He said the sides have agreed that a tax rebate program – giving $350 checks to households with incomes between $40,000 and $300,000 and with at least one child between birth and age 18 – will cost $375 million. He said a utility tax surcharge that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to extend for five more years will be extended for three years and be cut by 25 percent next year.

But as for the specifics on all the tax cuts? “Now we’re working through the numbers on the business tax credit and manufacturers,’’ he said.

Skelos said the sides are also still discussing a topic raised by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who earlier this week said Cuomo has too much control over how economic development funds are spent in communities. Skelos said there should be more legislative input in how regional councils spend money in the 10 different regions.

How will that be resolved in the budget? “I think the governor will be respectful of our opinions. I don’t believe anything is going to be iron-clad language that says you have to do this or you have to do that. I think he understands that there should be more involvement of the Legislature and I think we’re going to work that out,’’ Skelos said.

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |