---- — ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York's budget battles have a colorful history of power plays, finger-pointing and deadlines missed by months. By comparison, this year's may be one of the dullest as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature head toward adopting a widely supported spending plan early and without drama.
"And that's good," said Elizabeth Lynam of the independent Citizens Budget Commission. "The track seems to be pretty greased for an early budget this year. It's another year where we don't have to look like the poster child for late budgeting."
The Senate and Assembly are expected to announce their proposed changes to Cuomo's $143 billion budget Monday or Tuesday, though closed-door negotiations among legislative leaders and the governor have been under way for weeks.
The budget is scheduled to be adopted by March 21, 10 days before it is due. Part of the pressure comes from the Legislature's Passover and Easter break, which begins March 22 and continues to April 14.
Cuomo has proposed a budget with about a 2 percent increase in state spending. It has no new taxes although he proposes to extend some business taxes that were supposed to expire and continue five years of annual increases in public college tuition. The current deficit is about $1 billion, compared with a $10 billion gap in Cuomo's first budget, in 2011.
"Our budget gaps are fairly reasonable by historic standards," said Lynam. "We think there is a lot to like in the budget proposal that the Legislature has in front of them and they should keep to it and pretty much keep spending growth restrained.
"It's not the time to say, 'We are done with all this and it's time to spend,'" she said.
The Legislature traditionally adds less than 1 percent the budget, usually in the areas that hit New Yorkers most such as school aid, taxes, fees and health care.
Senate Republicans want $2 billion in tax cuts and credits for businesses, farmers and the middle class along with incentives to create jobs. The measure may be tied to raising the minimum to wage to as high as $9 an hour, as proposed by the Democrat-led Assembly, but it appears any debate on wages may wait until after the budget is passed.
Other proposals to increase the budget include finding more than $250 million for New York City schools. They lost their 4 percent increase in aid because Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to agree with a teachers union on evaluations.
The Alliance for Quality Education is also pushing for $350 million more aid for all schools, with larger shares to poorer schools.
Cuomo notes his 4 percent increase in school aid is larger than most areas of the budget. The AQE, however, argues that flat budgets and previous cuts have hurt schools and cut teachers and programs. A 2 percent cap on local school property taxes enacted by Cuomo and the Legislature is another choke point, according to AQE.
Resolving the issues and delivering a March 21 budget would make it the earliest since at least 1975. Three since 1997 have dragged into August.
The cause for on-time budgets is more than Albany getting religion on fiscal matters. Former Gov. David Paterson successfully tested a law that gives governors more power in budgeting. If the April 1 deadline is missed, a governor can impose his budget as part of emergency spending measures. The Legislature can either approve it all or risk shutting down government and getting the blame.
And Cuomo continues to make the process more orderly. He sticks to spending increases of no more than 2 percent and the most contentious negotiations over school aid are tamed by tying increases to a formula for growth that considers inflation.
As past governors and legislators have done, issues not easily resolved in the budget are put off until later in the half-year session. Among those issues this year appear to be raising the minimum wage and Cuomo's proposed approval of three or more casinos.
"We still believe we can get (minimum wage) in the budget," said Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat from Staten Island. "But we are in the budget season, and everyone is posturing."
Cuomo and legislative leaders were mum after one of the closed-door sessions last week, even downplaying any agreements or progress. Traditionally, that kind of reaction is meant to keep lobbyists and frustrated rank-and-file members from prying apart individual deals as a budget agreement draws near.
"There's nothing out (of the budget) until you have a budget," Cuomo said afterward.