NY Senate Democratic Leaders Offer Budget Plan

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    The New York Senate voted 32-29 Monday for a $136 billion spending plan that Democratic leaders said would  soften some budget cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson while still reducing spending by more than $4 billion, including $1.4 billion
    in aid to schools.

    Sen. John Sampson, leader of the majority Senate Democratic Conference, called the 51-page resolution ``a road map,'' not a
    final product.

    It would reject new soda and cigarette taxes proposed by the Paterson administration and keep state spending increases below the inflation rate, he said.

    Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, said his party's members received the draft only Sunday, leaving little time for
    bipartisan discussion.

    He contends it's out of balance by $1.5 billion for the coming budget year and fails to solve structural deficit problems. ``The road map that I see here is really to a dead end,'' he said.

    The proposal would maintain many of Paterson's proposed cuts to  state agency budgets.

    Sampson said it would close the $9.2 billion budget deficit projected for the 2010-11 fiscal year. "This is a very difficult budget,'' said Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.  "New York State is in very difficult economic times.''

    The Democratic senators' proposal would keep most college tuition assistance grants, close three prisons instead of four, cut
    Medicaid spending, keep state parks and historic sites open, and hold the state's Environmental Protection Fund at $222 million.

    Joseph Pennisi, the Senate Finance Committee secretary, said the state's current budget is $133 billion, putting the proposal for the coming year about $3 billion higher.

    The plan would push some of this year's costs into later years. Both the Senate Democrats' and Paterson's proposals project a $4.1 billion decrease for the state Labor Department, reflecting a decline in federal economic stimulus funds for unemployment claims.

    Other provisions would legalize mixed martial arts and extend film production tax credits, as Paterson proposed, but reject wine sales in grocery stories and a provision requiring DNA records from misdemeanor offenders.

    The Senate plan also would create a film post-production tax credit, impose an excise tax on little cigars, impose sales tax on
    hotel rooms booked over the Internet and restructure tobacco settlement bonds to raise revenue.

    It would revise the administration's proposed payroll tax hike for New York City
    businesses to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "We are pleased to see that the Senate, for the most part, accepts the deficit reductions that we have made,'' Paterson said.

    He questioned whether the Senate plan to raise revenues would "pass muster.''

    Speaker Sheldon Silver was talking Monday to other members of the Assembly's Democratic majority, and the outcome of that will guide his budget discussions with other legislative leaders, spokesman Dan Weiller said.

    The state's new fiscal year starts April 1.