New York state lawmakers reach budget deal

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2015 11:43 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York state lawmakers agreed a budget plan late on Sunday night that includes much-debated reforms to the education system and ethics standards for lawmakers, state governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders said in statement.

Cuomo proposed a $142 billion plan in January that keeps spending growth below 2 percent and promises money for big-ticket infrastructure projects while cutting property taxes.

The deal, ahead of the start of the state's financial year on Wednesday, would mark the fifth consecutive on time budget in a state previously known for fiscal dysfunction. Cuomo has made an on time budget a barometer of effective government.

Cuomo lauded new ethics measures which he describes as "putting in place the nation's strongest and most comprehensive rules for disclosure of outside income by public officials."

Cuomo pushed ethics reform after the arrest of House speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges in January in a bid to address Albany's tarnished image.

Sheldon's tenure as speaker spanned two decades. Although he was seen as a heavyweight in the budget negotiations, his removal did not appear to have slowed the process. He denies wrongdoing.

New York has a very condensed budget window as it financial year ends on March 31 compared to May 31 for most other states.

Other ethics reforms include changes to the per diem expense system, with lawmakers required to prove they are in Albany in order to claim expenses, creating the ability to revoke public pensions, stopping the personal use of campaign funds, and addressing transparency of independent expenditures.

Cuomo also promised to push ahead with controversial education reforms that have pitted him against powerful teachers' unions. He has described New York as "leading the nation in education spending but lagging in results."

The budget also caps spending growth at 2 percent for a fifth year. The administration's focus on spending caps have helped the state achieve its highest credit rating in 40 years. Standard & Poor's rates the state AA+. The state was last rated above that in 1962 when it had a AAA rating.

Officials at the Cuomo's budget office were unable to say the last time five consecutive budgets had been passed on time.

"It's been a very, very long time," said Morris Peters, a press officer at the Division of the Budget. "We had to send someone into the archives to figure out the answer to this exact question. I don't think they've come out."

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)