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March 28, 2013

State set to approve budget

Some local officials question option to defer pension costs

New York lawmakers are poised today to adopt a $135 billion state budget that boosts the minimum wage, sends $350 rebate checks to families with children just before the 2014 elections and gives counties a new option for dealing with rising pension costs.

The budget bills were passed by the state Senate early Wednesday, and the Assembly is expected to follow today. The budget calls for higher fines for those who use their smartphones while driving — with a fine of $150 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $400 for a third offense in 18 months.

Pleased with the spending blueprint, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took to the radio airwaves to quote from an oft-heard line in the popular reality television show “Duck Dynasty, declaring, “I am hap-hap-happy” that the budget will be finalized on time.

To balance the budget, the spending legislation advanced by Cuomo includes an extension of the so-called millionaires’ tax that raises $2 billion annually. Cuomo had been against a higher tax rate for the wealthy, but altered his position in late 2011 after polls showed public support for the higher bite into the coffers of the state’s most affluent earners.

The state’s fiscal 2013-14 fiscal year begins Monday, and if the budget is adopted today, lawmakers will be able to leave the Capitol before the windup of the Passover and Holy Week days of religious observation.

Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said while he has reservations with some aspects of the budget, he will likely support much of it.

“Certainly, all of us understand the need to exercise budget discipline,” he said, “and this budget attempts to do that. It attempts to make sure we are not spending beyond our means.”

Lopez said the decision on how to vote on individual bills is often complicated by the smorgasbord of items tucked into each measure. 

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