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Budget vote could wrap up today amid education protests at Capitol

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Voting on budget bills began last night and will continue through today.

Today could be the day that the legislature adopts the budget negotiated over the weekend, reports Teri Weaver at the Post-Standard:

The voting on some of the budget bills — including ones involving higher education, mergers for some state agencies and Cuomo’s 10 percent cut for most state agencies — began late Tuesday afternoon. If lawmakers finish their work Wednesday, it’ll be the first on-time budget since 2006 and only the fifth to make the April 1 deadline in the past three decades. What comes next may be the harder part — unraveling the 13 budget bills and waiting for Cuomo and his appointees to put those budget cutting measures into action.

Education cuts

Protestors are also expected at the Capitol today, to decry education budget cuts, reports Karen DeWitt at New York State Public Radio:

The groups say they plan to hold an all night camp out at the Capitol, and have scheduled demonstrations outside Governor Cuomo’s office, as well as the Senate and Assembly chambers. Speaker Sheldon Silver says he’s not concerned about the potential disruptions. “We’ll have people who are interested in our proceedings, we’re open to the public, that’s always been our tradition.” Silver says if anyone behaves inappropriately, then the state police will “manage” it.

Those education boosters could have a point - Scott Waldman reports at the Times Union that as cuts trickle down to schools, districts could try to make them up by levying higher taxes:

With the possibility of a tax cap enacted in time for next year's school budgets, this might be the year that districts "lard up," or pump money into their reserves to weather the greater financial storm that lies ahead. Cuomo has claimed that districts have enough in their reserves to withstand a $1.2 billion cut. However, school officials have said that is not true because some of the funds are legally tied up in employee costs, and if the rest of the money is used up in a single year, nothing will be left for next year. Cuomo's tax increase-free budget is actually just a passing of the mantle down to the local level, where the taxpayer ire is really going to be felt, said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "Local voters are going to be left with the terrible circumstances in their school budgets," Easton said. "You're going to see the combination of cuts in schools and property tax hikes."

Business in the budget

Business groups are applauding what they've seen of the governor's budget, saying cuts in spending and a lack of new fees make it friendlier to business.  Nick Reisman at Gannett reports:

Adding predictability for businesses has been the revamping of the Power for Jobs program, now called Recharge New York. The new program, which takes effect July 1, 2012, provides energy tax credits for businesses that create and keep jobs. It doesn't have to be renewed by legislation each year, as Power for Jobs did, and it offers more certainty on energy prices. "It's the one program New York state has that is focused on and encouraging reinvestment in our remaining manufacturing base," [Business Council spokesman Ken] Pokalsky said. The budget also creates 10 regional economic development councils, which will compete with each other to develop job creation ideas and then receive state aid to implement them. The state is setting aside $130 million in development aid. The councils will be led by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. Duffy said the early agreement on the budget between the governor and Legislature was significant not just for fiscal reasons. "What Gov. Cuomo has done with this budget, he inspired confidence in this state," said the former Rochester mayor.

Those regional economic councils will be resigned to an advisory role, according to the Times Union's Jimmy Vielkind.  He reports that the dollars allotted to the councils won't be available to dole out as pork, either:

Under the budget agreement, Cuomo will direct $30 million of his own pot of capital projects funding, and will get the other $100 million by canceling plans to construct a consolidated data center. Long planned by the Office for Technology, whose director Melodie Mayberry-Stewart unceremoniously announced she is stepping down, Gov. George Pataki promised in 2006 the center would be built in Marcy at the Oneida County campus of SUNY IT. It was later promised to the Capital Region. Now it's dead. "The project is thought of as being too costly, and it's being scrapped for the time being," said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of the Budget. In addition, Peters said, there will be $70 million worth of tax credits for the councils to distribute. There are no new member items -- unlike the capital projects, these are cash appropriations doled out by officials, not borrowing -- in this year's budget, but Cuomo has backed away from a proposal to close down the member item account in September.

One of the big gets for business in the budget is the creation of the "Recharge New York" program, which revives the logic behind the state's "Power for Jobs" initiative.  Jimmy Vielkind reports at the Times Union that the program will push cheap energy benefits to 500 firms:

"After years of hard work, we have a plan to help save Upstate New York's economy," said Sen. George Maziarz, a Niagara County Republican who chairs the Senate's Energy and Telecommunications Committee. "This is not a silver bullet, but this is a giant leap forward. ... This program will demonstrate how effective a tool low-cost hydropower can be for economic development." Participating businesses will now be able to sign seven-year contracts instead of one-year agreements, allowing for more certainty, Maziarz said.

SUNY contracting authority

Just in time for SUNY to get more authority through the budget to negotiate contracts, the state comptroller announced that a review conducted by his office will save SUNY $700,000 over the next two years.  Read: not so fast, the comptroller's review (which is omitted from the budget) might be useful.  Cara Matthews reports at Gannett:

"The savings from this contract underscores how important it is to have an independent review of state agency procurements, including SUNY contracts," [comptroller Tom] DiNapoli said in a statement. "OSC's audit, review and approval of state contracts protects the interests of New York's taxpayers." But the agreed-upon budget, which lawmakers expect to vote on before Friday's start of the new fiscal year, would remove reviews conducted by the comptroller and attorney general prior to the purchase of goods and signing of construction and printing contracts. It would not apply to the purchase of services, although SUNY had requested that be included. The Comptroller's Office would maintain post-audit authority.

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