ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature are poised to pass a state budget on time for the second year in a row, which would be as uncommon as its small spending increase.
The Legislature takes up the $132.5 billion budget plan Wednesday in a flurry of votes that should end late Thursday or early Friday, easily making the fiscal deadline of Saturday midnight.
In closed-door meetings and phone calls Monday, Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver cleared the final major obstacles to agreement.
The proposal will increase spending 1.9 percent, the rate Cuomo proposed two months ago, while dispatching with a $2 billion deficit. If approved as planned, the budget will follow Cuomo's freshman-year spending plan that included an even rarer cut in overall spending, while dashing a $10 billion deficit.
"This will be an early budget," Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, said Monday evening.
Just seven spending plans were approved on time since 1975, although Albany seems to have gotten the knack — or the message from voters — in recent years.
A new found legal power of the governor discovered by former Gov. David Paterson provides enough of a hammer in negotiations that late budgets may soon become as rare as on-time budgets have been since Gov. Mario Cuomo had on-time budgets back-to-back in his first two years in office. His successor, Republican Gov. George Pataki, did it again in 2005 and 2006.
Legislative leaders announced Monday they would agree to allow $50 million of school aid to go to Cuomo's proposed competitive grants for schools in the fiscal year that starts April 1 ($125 million for the school year).
Cuomo had proposed $250 million to encourage innovation and to reward performance. But the Legislature and Cuomo agreed to lump the $200 million Cuomo wanted in grants into general school aid. That will mean almost all of an $800 million increase will be distributed to all 700 school districts, with the neediest schools getting a larger share.
Total state school aid is about $21 billion.
The Senate's Republican majority refused to agree to create "health exchanges," required by the federal government to create one-stop shopping for individuals and businesses to insure more Americans. Although there will still be time after the budget passes to negotiate a health exchange tailored to New York, Cuomo has said he may create a health exchange by executive order.
And if the state doesn't adopt its own plan and collect millions of dollars in federal funds for it, the Obama administration will impose one.
In addition, Skelos and Silver said they reached a compromise with Cuomo on his proposal to transfer agency funding without the Legislature's approval after a budget is passed.
Cuomo has sought flexibility to consolidate "back office" operations to save money, such as purchasing and personnel services, but the broad wording of his proposal concerned lawmakers.
The agreement specifies that Cuomo can transfer funding among agencies involving only information technology and "back office" services, not funding the Legislature directed for programs and services.
"The role of the Legislature has been protected," Skelos said.
Another apparent compromise is in the governor's proposal to expand the power of state and local governments to use a state authority to help in financing, designing and building public projects. The proposal could have potentially brought nearly every public facilities project across the state under the control of the Cuomo administration, with less independent oversight, while avoiding approval from voters or the Legislature in borrowing.
The compromise, however, would expand the Dormitory Authority's reach only into the state parks and environmental conservation departments. The Cuomo administration said that's really all it wanted.
The result will be the biggest parks improvement program in state history as well as the rebuilding of every flood control project, a need determined after late summer tropical storms created more than $1 billion in damage from the Catskills to the Adirondacks.
The $125 million parks project would extensively revamp the state's most popular parks from Jones Beach on Long Island to Niagara Falls.
Cuomo also was able to reach agreement on what some lawmakers had called "a power grab." The agreement will end some "pre-audits" of state contracts by the state Comptroller's Office that are aimed at avoiding waste. Cuomo has said he wants to eliminate many pre-audits to make state government more efficient.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli opposed the measure. Staff members in his office recently stopped a $14 million contract by claiming they found evidence that the winning company had ties to the Gambino crime family.
"It is a mistake to erode this independent oversight," DiNapoli said. "Eliminating review of contracts potentially worth over billions of dollars undermines the accountability and transparency New York taxpayers deserve. Checks and balances are essential to fiscal responsibility."
The biggest parts of the $132 billion plan were decided in deals struck last year: School aid and health care funding would increase 4 percent each, and about $2 billion in additional spending comes from a millionaire tax adopted in December.
The budget agreements also include a $15 billion, multi-year "New York Works" program to pool state resources leveraged against some private sector investment to rebuild roads, bridges, tunnels and bridges. There were, however, few details on what projects would be done. Additional funding is planned to revitalize Buffalo and replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.