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Dream of on-time budget may be reality this year

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Renssalaer) and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) Monday handed their version of the completed budget over to Gov. George Pataki. Negotiations continued and a gubernatorial veto was still possible, as the deadline approached.The annual process to create a balanced budget that is satisfying to members of the Senate, Assembly and the governor may no longer be such a pipe dream, officials say, but the forces behind the optimistic words were still buried deep in negotiations at the Capitol by Tuesday evening. "This is crunch time," said a spokesman for state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans). "They're not coming out of that meeting until they have a budget or until they're dead."A spokesman for state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said Democrats and Republicans are going to do everything in their power to come out of the Capitol on April 1 with something solid the state can put to use. The Queens' Assembly and Senate delegation were in meetings on the budget in Albany and could not be reached for comment.However, whether or not absolute consensus will be realized in time still remained a mystery as the Legislature's budget exceeded the $105.5 billion Pataki budget by about $1.5 billion. And still, cuts had to be made. Early last week, Padavan reacted strongly against a $3.1 million cut in the School-Based Drug Prevention Program.Padavan said retaining full funding of school drug prevention programs was one of his priorities going into the budget debates. "By removing funding, we are playing a dangerous game with a program that has proven to be successful in combating drug abuse," he said in a statement. On the opposite side of the table, state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) expressed his apprehension over the budget disagreements."There are sticking points on higher education, transportation," he said. "Not minor points in the budget I might add."Some of the more debatable subjects between Pataki and the legislature include disagreements over the proper way to enact Medicaid reform, SUNY and CUNY tuition increases and an MTA sales tax increase.Funding for the MTA may come in the form of a legislative proposal to raise the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent in the MTA region, according to officials at the Division of the Budget. Differences in opinion also exist between Pataki and the Legislature over the amount to charge for the mortgage recording tax. "You can increase funding in one section, but when you do that, you have to decrease funding in another section," said Peter Constantakes, spokesman for the Division of the Budget. "The legislature budget is a little higher than the governor's and it will have to be discussed."Constantakes said that while negotiations persist, it is possible for some items to be taken out of the budget to be addressed at a later time.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 139.

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