ALBANY — New York's hard-times budget is facing what negotiators promise are its final days as a proposal as pressure escalates to restore some school aid cuts and upstate prison closings become a top issue.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous said this week that his Republican conference wants to know which prisons would be closed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's cost-cutting plan, which seeks to take advantage of declining prison populations. Libous, of Broome and Chenango counties, said last year's prison closings unfairly hit upstate hardest, with little compensation for communities that lost their biggest employer.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said he's considering the Legislature's proposed restorations to his 2011-12 budget.
"It's all on the table," he told reporters Tuesday.
His budget would cut spending 2.7 percent to address a $10 billion deficit and what he said is years of overspending. But he has the power to impose his budget if lawmakers fail to agree on one by the April 1 start of the fiscal year, a tool discovered in state law by former Gov. David Paterson who used it last year.
Cuomo repeated that he won't hesitate to impose his budget on the April 1 deadline if talks with the Senate and Assembly leaders turn unproductive.
Lawmakers say they hope to have an agreement among the Senate, Assembly and Cuomo on or before the weekend, so a budget could be passed on time as early as Monday or Tuesday.
"There's a new option if the three parties agree to disagree, in a very dramatic fashion," Cuomo said of his power to impose his budget.
Cuomo could start sending the Legislature emergency budget "extenders" containing his budget cuts and other proposals, leaving lawmakers with the choice of either approving them or shutting down government.
"It's an expeditious option. In many ways, it's a clear option for the people," Cuomo said.
Lawmakers and staff in the Senate and Assembly say they are confident the budget will be on time with some restoration of aid cut by Cuomo.
The Assembly's Democratic majority continues to seek to restore $200 million in school aid to Cuomo's $1.5 billion cut, while the Republican-led Senate seeks to restore $280 million and education advocates push to combine both legislative proposals.
In Albany, hundreds of teachers rallied outside Capitol chanting for Cuomo to "stop the war on teachers!"
Protesters carried a black coffin with a sign reading, "This is our reality, this is not a scare tactic. ... Gov. Cuomo, you are killing our future."
They are pushing for a higher income tax on New Yorkers making more than $1 million a year to create revenue that would restore school aid cuts. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, supports the measure, Cuomo and the Senate's Republican majority oppose it as a blow to employers and wealthy New Yorkers who can easily move out of state.
"Protect kids, not millionaires," protesters shouted. The rally was billed to attract 2,000 protesters and was the latest in a series of budget season protests unseen at this level since Republican Gov. George Pataki sought cuts in spending in the mid-1990s.
Cuomo also said Tuesday that he supports the concept of a five-year plan for the State University of New York. The SUNY Board of Trustees authorized Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to start negotiation with Cuomo and legislative leaders on the proposal, which would raise tuition annually during the five years to better fund SUNY. The amount of increases would be negotiated. With Cuomo's proposed deep cuts in the 2011-12 budget, SUNY will have seen operating aid cut 30 percent in three years.
"SUNY is the most affordable university in the Northeast and one of the most affordable universities in the country," Zimpher said. "We take very seriously our obligation to maintain access for all New Yorkers who seek higher education, but we also must ensure that the education we offer continues to be world-class when they get here."
SUNY tuition is $4,970 a year. A year at one of its 64 campuses costs about $15,000 with room and board.
"There is a lot of merit to the concept," said Cuomo, who seeks no tuition increase in his proposed budget.