Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spitzer, Bruno get serious as deadline nears

Jay Gallagher Ithica Journal.Com

Why does all the real negotiating have to be done in the final hours??? Bruno had weeks to get this done....geeeeeeeezzzzz....andy

ALBANY — With time running out in the state fiscal year, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno met behind closed doors Monday to try to work out a deal on a new state budget.
While agreements were near on major issues such as health-care funding and business taxes, the last remaining major sticking point remained distribution of school aid — with Senate Republicans insisting that more money go to Long Island districts than Spitzer has proposed. Spitzer wants more to go to New York City and other urban districts.
“Who blinks is the real question here,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who has been largely on the sidelines as Bruno and Spitzer try to resolve their differences. Someone close to the talks between those two leaders described them as “cordial,” and said the leaders were in a “summation mode.”
But as senators came out of a closed-door meeting Monday evening, they said nothing had been finalized.
“Everything is fluid,” said Sen. Vincent Leibell, R-Patterson, Putnam County.
Bruno and Spitzer have agreed that property-tax breaks will be delivered to taxpayers directly with checks from the state, as the Senate insisted, rather than funneled through school districts, as Spitzer proposed. Spitzer had set aside $1.4 billion for the breaks, while Bruno wants to spend $2.6 billion. There is no agreement yet on how much will be coming back to taxpayers.
Much of the $1.3 billion that Spitzer wanted to trim from health-care spending is also expected to be restored. Spitzer is trying to slow the growth of health-care spending, which jumped 8 percent last year. His plan would hold the hike to less than 2 percent.
On business taxes, Spitzer has proposed about $400 million in what he calls “loophole closers” and opponents call taxes. Spitzer said Monday that he would consider lowering the state's corporate-tax rate to make the plan revenue-neutral, but it was unclear whether that would happen in the next fiscal year.
“We're checking the numbers,” he told reporters Monday.
Also Monday, a poll showed that Spitzer is still popular with New Yorkers, but that the budget fight is talking a toll.
He is now viewed favorably by three times as many voters as disapprove of him — still a strong figure, but down from a six-to-one positive rating a month ago, according to a new Siena College poll of registered voters.
“While Spitzer continues to earn strong public support, the budget battles are moving some New Yorkers from the pro-Spitzer column to the anti-Spitzer column,” said Siena poll spokesman Steven Greenberg.
Just before Bruno and Spitzer huddled privately, Assembly Republicans Monday unveiled their “budget clock” that is counting down the time until the start of the new fiscal year on April 1.
“Most New Yorkers get up every day and go to work, and they don't leave until they've finished their job,” said Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, as the clock behind him counted down through five days, nine hours and 45 minutes before the budget deadline.
He said Republicans today would introduce a bill that would force lawmakers to stay in Albany until a budget is adopted.
The plan now is to break Friday and not return until the end of the Easter and Passover holidays, on April 11.

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