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Gun rules, minimum wage slow state budget talks

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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— Tax rebate checks for middle-class families and revisions to New York’s recently enacted gun control law are apparently among the sticky issues that have prompted legislative leaders to miss their early, optimistic target dates for passing a state budget.

Still, they continued to say after closed-door meetings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday that they are progressing, and they downplayed any tension over reaching a budget agreement, which once was expected in time for formal Senate and Assembly approval on Thursday.

“I am in no rush to get it done,” Cuomo said Tuesday evening. “First, timing is important and I want an on-time budget, and we are working toward that. But second is to get as many good things done as you can.”

The constitution requires that a budget be passed by April 1, and negotiators do not want to fall back into a trend of late budgets that for decades labeled Albany as dysfunctional.

Some political observers weren’t reassured.

“How would you know if there’s a problem?” asked Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. “This is the most important thing legislators are elected to do — fashion a budget — and there has been more closed-door meetings than I think there has been in four or five years.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said rebates, if approved as expected, would go to families with at least one child and making $40,000 to $300,000 a year. The amount of the checks isn’t certain but would likely be $350; one proposal sets a range up to $500 based on income. The rebates wouldn’t be released earlier than 2014, an election year.

“We know we have to do a family tax cut, probably in the form of a check,” said Sen. Jeff Klein of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Negotiators also are apparently contemplating changes to the state’s new gun control law, passed only two months ago after the Connecticut school shootings that took the lives of 20 first-graders. New York’s law prompted protests from upstaters, Republicans and gun owners.

Silver emerged from the negotiations Tuesday, saying leaders were discussing a change in the law to allow the continued sale of 10-bullet magazines and firearms that include 10-bullet magazines. Effective April 15, the current law would outlaw magazines that can carry more than seven bullets.

Ten-bullet magazines are standard in the industry, which doesn’t make seven-bullet magazines. Silver said the change is needed to clarify and fix elements of the measure pushed by Cuomo and rushed into law Jan. 14.

“The law basically is inconsistent,” Silver said.

Other tentative agreements include raising the minimum wage.

Tying tax cuts for businesses to a gradual increase of the state’s minimum wage appears to have settled this issue in state budget negotiations, according to two Republican senators from the Capital Region.

Until recently Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Assembly majority and the Senate majority all appeared to be on different pages when it came to raising the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour. The governor supported a rate of $8.75, the Assembly majority passed a proposal to make it $9 an hour, with increases tied to inflation, and the Senate majority, which includes Republicans and a few renegade Democrats, opposed both measures.

“I’ve consistently opposed increasing the minimum wage,” said Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, who argued previous increase proposals would harm job growth by raising the cost of business.

“Having said that ... if we’re going to do a minimum wage increase, and the Assembly and governor are insistent it should be done as part of this budget, we should mitigate some of the negative impacts,” he said. The mitigating effect would be tax cuts for small businesses, including a credit for businesses that pay minimum wage to people under 20.

Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, was particularly pleased with the targeted nature of the tax cut for businesses that employ young people.

The proposal is for a three-year phase-in of increases, with the rate going to $8 an hour by 2014 and $9 by 2016. There would not be a provision for future increases based on inflation, which Seward described as a positive omission.

“I’m pretty sure I expect to be voting for it as part of an overall package,” he said.

Farley said he anticipates some final touches being put on the minimum wage package. “The votes are there for a minimum wage increase, there’s no question about it,” he said.

 
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