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by Jay Gallagher

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Battle lines are drawn; who cares about openness?

Even as taxpayers got a clearer look at the differences in how the Assembly and Senate would balance next year’s budget, just how they will work out their disputes became murkier.
The Assembly yesterday passed its version of a budget plan. Here are the major differences with the Senate budget resolution that passed earlier in the week:
-- Cut $800 million from aid to local schools, rather than the $1.4 billion the Senate and Gov. David Paterson want;
-- Borrow $2 billion for operating expenses (Senate: nothing) but also don’t count on getting $700 million from refinancing state bonds as the Senate is;
-- Raise the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, to $3.75. The Senate would leave it at $2.75;.
-- Cut $126 million less from health care than Paterson proposed and the Senate OK’d.
-- Approved mixed-martial-arts exhibitions, and taxes them. The Senate would leave a current ban in place;
Neither house went along with Paterson’s plan to raise about $800 million through a tax on soda and other sugary drinks.
State law calls for the two houses to resolve these differences in public conference committees. But none have been scheduled yet and lawmakers are due to leave town tomorrow and not return until Wednesday, April 7.
The budget is supposed to be passed by April 1, but has been routinely late (sometimes a few days, sometimes months) in recent decades.
Paterson yesterday proposed a temporary spending plan to keep the state running through early April. That’s necessary because after April 1 the state has no power to spend money unless the Legislature acts.
The Assembly intends to pass the emergency bill tomorrow, but the Senate still hopes an overall deal can be worked out.
League legislative director Barbara Bartoletti said lawmakers should work to resolve their differences in public - and in the meantime try to explain to their constituents how severe the budget problem is and what sacrifices will be needed to fix it.

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