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State Legislature approves Gov. Cuomo's budget

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo Thursday night passed their third straight on-time budget after decades of missed deadlines.

The $135 billion budget given final legislative approval by the Assembly holds the spending increase to 2 percent for the third consecutive year.

The Senate approved its bills early Wednesday for the budget which is due Sunday, the start of the new fiscal year.

Major elements includes nearly $1 billion more for schools, about a 4-percent average increase, and $35O tax rebate checks that will be sent to most middle class families next year, shortly before Election Day. The minimum wage will rise to $9 over three years, and employers of teenagers in part-time jobs will get a taxpayer-paid subsidy to cover most of the increase.

The budget also raises billions of dollars by extending two taxes that were due to expire. One is an income tax surcharge on millionaire earners and another is a business tax on energy costs.
Businesses will get additional tax breaks including one to encourage the hiring of recent veterans.

"We accomplished a lot of things we wanted to accomplish," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who had made raising the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage a priority for two years.

The budget process was criticized for continuing Albany's tradition of closed-door negotiations among top leaders with little if any real role for rank-and-file lawmakers, who under a budget reform law were supposed to hash out spending agreements in public.

A stumble in negotiations included fixes needed to the state's new gun control law, passed in January, which has drawn some sharp criticism in upstate communities. The budget suspends the provision that would have outlawed any bullet magazines that carried more than seven bullets, because seven-bullet magazines aren't made. The standard is 10 bullets, but Cuomo sought to have the lowest magazine capacity in the nation.

There is no plan to set a new date for that provision because manufacturers don't plan to make them. So now the law requires gun owners to only carry seven bullets at a time, unless they are at an authorized shooting range or shooting competition.

It was derided by Republican Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin as "the honor system."

"Do you think criminals are going to care about that?" he said. "I can practice defending my family with 10 rounds, but I can only defend my family with seven rounds?"

The Assembly's daylong march to approve the state budget was interrupted briefly on Thursday by an impassioned rank-and-file effort to reverse cuts in programs for the developmentally disabled.

"Whoever negotiated these cuts has never struggled with the pain of watching a child with disabilities," said Assemblyman Bill Nojay, a Monroe County Republican.

Assembly members argued the programs that feed and care for the developmentally disabled youths and adults in group homes already often face short staffing that hurts care. They said money should be taken from elsewhere in the $135 billion budget. They cited the $420 million tax credit to subsidize movie and TV productions and $54 million that will be spent to help renovate the stadium used by the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

"Where are our values?" said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Nassau County Democrat whose son is disabled and needs intensive care. "We cannot let dollars be more important than people!"

The effort by Republicans and some Democrats in the Assembly majority to fully restore a $90 million cut in aid failed. But it was followed by a rare standing ovation, and hugs by colleagues for Weisenberg, who was in tears.

Cuomo had proposed a $120 million cut for the program that cares for developmentally disabled youths and adults in group homes. That was about a 6 percent cut in the $2 billion state share of the cost. Cuomo and legislative readers reduced that cut to about 4.5 percent.

Cuomo's plan to reduce the aid was forced because New York owes the federal government about $3 billion for overcharging it for decades. He wants the cut to come from administrative costs, not direct care.

"We are giving millions of dollars of tax credits to Beverly Hills and Hollywood entertainers versus taking care of our most needy," said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb. "This is just one example where budgets that are negotiated behind closed doors don't necessarily bring the best outcomes for the people that we're supposed to serve."
The total budget includes another $7 billion in short-term federal aid for recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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