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by Jay Gallagher

Friday, March 26, 2010

It was only a feint

Lawmakers made a feint at making progress on a new state budget today, but in the end didn’t seem to accomplish anything.

For the first time in two years, they held a legally mandated conference-committee meeting before TV cameras and the public, but reached no agreements.

The Assembly plans to pass a spending bill tonight to keep the state operating until April 11, while the Senate plans to do the same Monday morning. The current state fiscal year ends Wednesday at midnight, and with it the legal authority of the state to spend money unless the Legislature acts, passing either a budget (not likely) or the emergency bills (bet on it.).

The two houses differ on how much money to cut from education and health care, whether to raise cigarette taxes and whether to borrow up to $2 billion for operating expenses, among other items.

None of these were discussed today. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County tried to get his Democratic counterpart, John Sampson of Brooklyn, to admit that the Dems’ budget plan doesn’t include goodies like property-tax rebate checks and a cap on state spending.

Sampson pretty much ignored his questions, responding instead that he was looking forward to see what Republicans want to cut (no dice there either.)

Only Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, brought up specific ideas, like merging state agencies. He said a whole list of cuts the Republicans have come up with will be distributed shortly to other lawmakers.

But he was widely ignored, since Republicans have only 42 votes in the Assembly, compared to 107 for the Democrats.

“The public is waiting for substantive debate on the budget,’’ said the League’s legislative director Barbara Bartoletti. “They didn’t get that today.’’

They might have a long wait.

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