'Raise the Age' Still an Outstanding Issue as State Budget Talks Continue

With just two weeks to go before the budget is due, state leaders are closing in on their $150 billion spending plan, but one outstanding issue is raising the age of criminal liability in New York to 18. Zack Fink filed the following report.

New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the nation that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Over the last three years, there has been a push to raise the age of criminal liability in New York State to 18, but the measure has stalled in the Republican-controlled state senate.

This year, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan says he's open to making the change.

"We are having those discussions," Flanagan said. "We had lengthy internal discussions, including today. I expect that we will have them all week. Clearly the speaker, Senator Klein and the governor have made this a priority, but I would be going out on a proverbial limb that I shouldn't, but there have been very serious concerns about a very serious issue."

State leaders say without the right amount of state funding, raising the age can never get off the ground, which is why the issue is being discussed as part of the budget.

"I think we need to do everything possible to make sure that these cases of 16- and 17-year-olds are in family court. That's the proper vehicle to have an adequate rehabilitation program," said Jeff Klein, the state Senate's Independent Democratic Conference leader.

Klein and members of his breakaway Democratic Senate conference have said they cannot sign off on a budget without raising the age. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has also made it a top priority, but he declined to say he'd hold up the budget over it.

"I don't like to make declarations because that means I accept failure. And there aren't many things in my life that I would try to deal with that I would expect to negotiate failure," Heastie said.

Much of Cuomo's budget is predicated on renewing a tax on high-income earners known as the Millionaire's Tax, which Senate Republicans continue to oppose.

"It shouldn't be viewed in isolation because the governor has proposed $800 million in new taxes and fees," Flanagan said. "It's not just the millionaire's tax. There are things for DMV and other kinds of things that people just hate."

Insiders believe this is shaping up to be a less contentious budget than in years past. Flanagan says he is confident there will be an on-time budget, a big priority for Cuomo. The budget is due April 1.

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