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NYSNYS NEWS: Late budget2016 keeps legislators at their desks Friday. New spending plan delays implementation of some of its biggest initiatives.
NYSNYS NEWS: Late budget2016 keeps legislators at their desks Friday. New spending plan delays implementation of some of its biggest initiatives.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 1) — Legislators remained stuck at their desks late Friday in a marathon session that began more than 24 hours earlier, but it was no April Fool’s Day joke.

Instead, it was the first late budget in years, a $156 billion spending plan for 2016-17 that promised on paper to lower taxes, raise the minimum wage, and create a new government entitlement program, a paid family leave act.

“I am very excited about this budget,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a late night press conference Thursday. “We call it a budget – really it is an overall operating plan for the state of New York and I believe that this is the best plan that the state has produced, if it is passed, in decades, literally.”

Cuomo got a shoutout from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Friday after he posted on Twitter that New York will have the only 12-week paid family leave program in the U.S. “Now that's what we call #NewYorkValues. Thanks, @NYGovCuomo. -H,” she replied in a tweet.

As for the legislators who ignored his calls for ethics reforms and succeeded in watering down his sweeping plan for a statewide $15 minimum wage, “they have done a really extraordinary job,” the governor said.

The job included pushing off implementation of the tax cut, the minimum wage hike and the family leave act — leaving them open to being rolled back if the economy suffers another crash before then. The $15 minimum wage would take five years to be implemented in New York City and six years in Westchester and Long Island. The rest of the state would reach $12.50 only after a five-year delay.

Family leave benefits would not be offered until 2018, then not fully implemented until 2021. The tax cut would also not take effect until two years from now and would not be fully implemented until 2025.

The Empire Center said the tax cut is the biggest in 20 years, and will mostly effect the wealthier downstate region.

“The tax cuts tilt towards downstate suburbs and relatively affluent (but not super-wealthy) neighborhoods of New York City,” the anti-tax group said. “Reflecting the state’s wide regional disparity in household earnings, savings over the eight-year phase-in period will flow disproportionately to the ‘middle class’ as defined by the current standards of Chappaqua, Garden City and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Families with incomes more typical of those currently found in upstate locales such as Jamestown, Binghamton and Syracuse—who, to be sure, pay lower effective rates to start with—will get much, much less out of the deal.”

Both houses pulled all nighters Thursday, with the Senate wrapping up work around 9:30 a.m. Friday and the Assembly taking a few hours off before getting back to the grind a little before 4 p.m. They hoped to finish before Saturday.

The plan ended up spending about $2 billion more that Cuomo first proposed in January, but otherwise kept close the general outlines of his proposal.

The new budget restored Medicaid cuts sought by Cuomo, raised state aid to schools by $1.5 billion, provide $54 million by raising state support for charter schools by $430 per pupil, and approved a $27 billion program for roads, bridges and transportation projects around the state.

Families with incomes of $300,000 or less would see the income tax cut, with the overall savings estimated at $4 billion when it is fully implemented.

The new budget blocked plans to raise SUNY and CUNY tuition and rejected Cuomo’s proposal to shift costs to CUNY.

Legislators rejected all of Cuomo’s proposals for ethics reforms made in the wake of the 2015 convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on corruption charges. The are both due to be sentenced this month, facing long federal prison terms.

While legislators have voiced skepticism about the need for new ethics laws, they have left open the door to taking up the issue later in the session. Lawmakers are on track to get a pay raise at the end of 2016, and failure to act in the wake of the worst corruption scandal in the Legislature’s history could bring pressure to kill the planned raise.

The budget was late for the first time since Gov. David Paterson’s crisis-plagued tenure. Cuomo has made it a top priority to pass the budget by April 1, the start of the state’s new fiscal year, seeing it as necessary to restore Albany’s tattered reputation. There is no legal mandate to have a budget done by then, but late budgets became a national embarrassment for New York during the years Mario Cuomo and George Pataki served as governor.

One of the most publicized features of the new plan is the minimum wage change, which sets up a new three-tiered regional system for base wages.

The budget deal called for increasing the minimum wage in stages, starting later this year. The wage will eventually rise in New York City to $15 on December 31, 2018, with an additional one-year phase-in for small businesses with fewer than 11 employees. In Westchester County and on Long Island the minimum wage will rise in stages to $15 on December 31, 2021. In all other counties, the minimum wage will rise to $12.50, in stages by December 31, 2020 and then be increased annually based on inflation until it reaches $15. Beginning in 2019, the governor can alter the phase-in depending on economic conditions.

The minimum wage is now $9 an hour.

The deal also calls for raising Medicaid rates for healthcare providers so they will get more money to cover the pay increases. The biggest impact is expected to be on agencies that employ home care aides.

In a separate issue that Cuomo tied to the minimum wage under the rubric of “economic justice,” the budget also approved up to 12 weeks of paid “family leave” for all workers, paid for out of higher payroll taxes. Workers now have unpaid family leave under a federal law.

The higher minimum wage and family leave bills were supported by 1199SEIU and other unions, but bitterly opposed by business groups.

Cuomo has previously used his executive powers to raise the pay of fast food workers to $15 and to also increase the pay of tipped workers.