NY Assembly speaker drives home priorities ahead of budget release

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 11, 2016 12:24 PM

By Edward Krudy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's top Democratic legislator drove home his budget priorities on Friday, touching on the minimum wage, paid family leave and education ahead of the release of the state Assembly's spending plan scheduled for later that day.

Assembly speaker Carl Heastie highlighted the proposals that have become a rallying point for Democrats both in the state and nationally, saying that he was "very optimistic" an agreement could be reached over a state-wide $15 minimum wage with the Republican controlled Senate.

Heastie, speaking at an event in New York City, stressed his support for paid family leave. The Assembly passed a bill in February that would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or a sick relative. The initiative is supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat.

The speaker highlighted $1.7 billion in higher education spending for the state and city public university systems, including funding a two-year tuition freeze, and a $2.1 bln increase in education funding for the state's public schools.

The Assembly's school spending proposal is $1.2 billion over Cuomo's executive budget.

Confidence in the state capital Albany was shaken last year after the convictions on corruption charges of the speakers of both the Senate and the Assembly. Heastie became speaker after charges were brought against his predecessor Sheldon Silver.

Heastie said he will release ethics proposals also on Friday that seek to limit outside pay for legislators, and put conditions on roles legislators can take in the private sector.

The Assembly's budget will be released later on Friday and passed by the Assembly on Monday, Heastie's spokesperson Mike Whyland said. It follows the release of Cuomo's $145 billion executive budget in January.

The Senate has also released parts of its one house budget, promising to cut middle class tax rates by 25 percent through 2025, leading to a reduction in the tax burden of $3.5 billion.

The three budget plans need to be reconciled by the start of the state's financial year on April 1. Cuomo has made passing an on-time budget a barometer of good governance and has managed to pass all five of his previous budgets on time.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by David Gregorio)