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Minimum wage likely dropped from budget as Cuomo and lawmakers continue to haggle
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The state Assembly, Senate and Governor Cuomo continue to work on sticking points in the state budget, as yet another item has now been dropped from the spending plan, raising the state’s minimum wage.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged hopeful from a closed door meeting with Republican Senators. The Senate and Governor Cuomo have been at odds over ethics reform, including requiring financial disclosure of Senators’ law clients in their outside jobs as private attorneys.

Skelos says he and the governor are on track for a compromise and it’s no longer a sticking point.

“We’re making tremendous progress with the ethics legislation,” Skelos said.

The Senator offered no details, but says he expects a deal by March 31st, the deadline, or even earlier.  Cuomo previously agreed to an ethics package with the State Assembly. Senators have more at stake if they have to  publicly identify their clients.  Several, including Senate Leader Skelos, earn over $100,000 a year from private law firms, according to financial disclosure forms that they are already required to fill out.

The reforms were proposed after the former Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, was arrested and charged with illegally gaining millions of dollars from two private law firms by improperly using his political influence.

Senator Skelos also says that yet another item has been dropped from the budget. He says Governor Cuomo’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 downstate and $10.50 upstate, won’t be in the spending plan.

“Where do they come up with these numbers?” Skelos asked.

He points out that the Assembly, as well as New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, want the minim wage increased even higher, to $15 an hour.

“It’s like a bidding war,” Skelos said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said raising the minimum wage is an essential budget item for his members, and Assembly Democrats back increasing it even higher, to $15 an hour in New York City by 2018.

“It absolutely has to be on the table, as far as we’re concerned,” Heastie said.

Heastie on Thursday says he’s expressing his concerns to Senator Skelos.

“I have spoken to Senator Skelos about how important this is,” Heastie said, as he shuttled between his office and a lengthy closed door party conference meeting.

The Assembly and the governor still have not reached agreement on education policy issues that the governor has insisted he needs before he will agree to increase school aid, including new teacher evaluations and how to turn around failing schools.

Chanting “No more Cuomo,” 100’s of teachers held a rally at the Capitol Thursday evening protesting Governor Cuomo’s education policies.  

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee says a compromise proposal to appoint a commission to decide on new teacher performance standards is “in a state of flux”. Magee says one proposal would put the responsibility for creating the new teacher evaluations back to the state Board of Regents, the body that sets education policy for the state.

Speaker Heastie says the proposal is under discussion by Assembly Democrats, but there’s been no agreement.

In addition to the minimum wage, another issue - curbing sexual assault on college campuses, also seemed unlikely to be included in the state’s spending plan.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle says it might be better to deal with that issue, as well as other items in the remaining months of the legislative session.

“Well, you could argue that many of them didn’t need to be in the budget proposal because they don’t have a direct link to an appropriation,”  Morelle said. “The governor was pretty ambitious in trying to get a number of things done in the budget.”

But Morelle says he understand why the governor might have tried to take advantage of leverage that he has with the legislature over the budget in order to get some other issues done.

By the end of the day, Governor Cuomo, who did not meet with reporters, issued a statement. He said achieving ethics reform and education policy changes remain the top priorities for him in the budget, and that he won’t sign a budget without them.

And he says discussion about whether unrelated policy  items should be included or not included in the budget is simply a “red herring.”