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Sandy Relief, Minimum Wage Raise Among State Budget Proposals

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Governor Andrew Cuomo this afternoon detailed his budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year which he said will build on both fiscal responsibility and social progress.

Speaking to members of the state legislature in Albany, Cuomo said the 2013-2014 executive budget includes $136.5 billion in spending while also closing a $1.3 billion budget gap with no new taxes or fees.

Spending goes up 1.9 percent in Cuomo's proposed budget. Although the governor claimed spending stays within a 2 percent cap on growth this year, it depends on how you look at the numbers.

If you factor in the $6 billion in proposed federal Hurricane Sandy aid spending this year, the budget actually balloons to almost $143 billion, or an increase of 5.2 percent.

The governor praised Albany lawmakers for being poised to pass an on-time budget for the third year in a row, saying late budgets used to be a symbol of the State Legislature's dysfunction.

"The budget was historically the flashpoint for dysfunction," Cuomo said. "That became the metaphor."

In addition to economic development efforts, Cuomo is proposing to raise the state hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75.

The idea of raising the state's minimum wage got a cool reception from Republicans.

"Well, anything can be in the budget, and anything can be taken out of the budget," said State Senate Republican Conference Leader Dean Skelos. "We will analyze it. We will see if this is the right year to raise the minimum wage."

The budget also calls for $50 billion in funding, including $30 billion in federal aid, to help victims of Hurricane Sandy recover and rebuild.

Included in that figure is a voluntary home buyout alternative for residents who live in an area where rebuilding is "impractical."

The Sandy aid money will also strengthen "critical infrastructure," medical facilities and waterfronts, set up a better emergency information system and allow a public commission to have stronger oversight of utilities.

"I really think this state is going to rise from what has happened and rise from these crises and pledge ourselves to build our state back to a level it's never reached. Because at the end of the day it's very simple: leaving our children a state that is stronger, richer than the home that we had," Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the state will pay for infrastructure upgrades.

"I think we have to rebuild in a much smarter way, and the governor outlined some very important proposals," said State Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. "If an area is in a flood zone, why keep rebuilding it the same way?"

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is poised to get over $4.2 billion, which is $358 million more than last year's budget.

On the education front, Cuomo is proposing the state provide $889 million in aid, an increase of 4.4 percent from his previous budget.

It includes a new $55 million program for CUNY schools and another $55 million for SUNY schools to spur growth in local economies and jobs, the implementation of full-day pre-kindergarten programs and a state certification exam for educators.

The increases are also tied to the creation of a teacher evaluation system which must be in place by September 1.

There is also $35.9 million set aside to implement the new state gun laws, including registering of assault weapons and safety measures in school.

Cuomo also proposed closing the Bayview Correctional Facility in the Chelsea section of Manhattan as part of an effort to deal with declining state prison populations and cut surplus costs.

The governor claimed that while Bayview's closing would cut 273 jobs, those positions would be "absorbed" in the corrections system.

As for film and TV production, Cuomo wants to provide the Empire State film production tax credit by $420 million a year over the next five years.

The governor said the budget saves $974 million through consolidation and redesign of state government agencies.

A new website, www.OpenBudget.NY.gov, is launching to provide more information on the state budget.

The State Legislature has until March 31 to approve the governor's budget or make any changes.

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