Many Assembly Democrats are bearing down on Speaker Sheldon Silver to follow the Senate's lead: Pass a budget now and leave the court-mandated fixing of New York's school aid for another day, according to several Assembly officials.
But Silver hasn't agreed to do so -- yet.
Gov. George Pataki said he doesn't favor such a strategy, but revealed that private budget talks with Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno have turned in a different direction. Now, he said, a new budget -- apart from the complex education issue -- is getting discussed, as are a host of other issues that have been virtually dormant in the absence of a spending deal.
Pataki also said the legislative leaders are suggesting a "reasonable" increase above his proposed $99.8 billion budget for this year.
The governor confirmed he will introduce an emergency budget extender today for passage next week. It would allow the state to continue running without a new budget through Aug. 2. That would let the Legislature leave Albany for six weeks while a budget bill is potentially being drafted.
The Senate said it plans to pass a budget bill as early as Thursday with the hopes of gaining a handshake on a new budget with the Assembly by next Tuesday.
The Senate bill would include more than $1 billion in new tax cuts when fully implemented, and enhanced aid this year for schools, particularly struggling districts.
Silver, D-Manhattan, faces a split in his 102-member Democratic majority over the education formula issue.
Two-and-a-half months after a budget was due, lawmakers, who haven't been paid since they missed the deadline, are tiring of passing one-house bills and seeing no signs of progress on important measures, several members said.
Silver said the matter is in the hands of his Democratic conference.
Some New York City members are demanding Silver continue to hold out for a comprehensive, long-term plan to assure city schools the funds needed for a sound, basic education. They envision hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate help and billions of dollars over the next few years.
"There's a general upstate, downstate division," one Assembly official said.
How the internal debate is resolved will determine much about what gets accomplished in the scheduled four remaining days of this session.
Bruno, R-Brunswick, revealed Tuesday that a host of substantive issues -- from a new gaming bill to power plant siting legislation to Rockefeller Drug Law reforms -- are under discussion because Silver has agreed to put aside the contentious matter of how to fix the school aid formula.
The state, which lost a court case on New York City school funding brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, is under a July 30 deadline to fix the aid formula. Otherwise, the court will appoint a panel to do it.
Rather than deal with just New York City, which was the subject of the court case, Pataki and the legislative leaders have issued differing proposals for a statewide overhaul of the funding system. They have been unable to agree on a plan, however, bogging down talks for a 2004-05 budget.
CFE Executive Director Michael Rebell said he doesn't like what he's hearing about a one-year funding plan for education "unless they're going to give us $6 billion to $7 billion."
Rebell said doing a budget without the CFE issue resolved is unacceptable. The Assembly and Senate plans have good elements, he said, and Pataki suggests some prudent reforms. A compromise should be worked out, he added.
Bruno said that is what he hopes to do -- after first doing a budget for this year.
"CFE isn't part of the budget, it wasn't and it's not going to be," he said. He added that lawsuits over school funding are going to be flooding the courts and the issue will not be resolved "in our lifetime."
Upstate school districts worry that if the court is left to settle the funding issues in the CFE case, only New York City will benefit. Syracuse and Utica say they plan to sue, and more city districts may follow.
After a meeting with Bruno and Pataki on Tuesday, Silver said he's willing to do what his conference tells him, but he did not say what that is. Silver has said for months that he won't do a budget unless a solution to the CFE case is part of the deal. Bruno suggested Silver has backtracked on that position.
"He realizes it's much more complicated and complex and it doesn't have to be done until July 30," Bruno said.
Silver's aides, however, said Silver has only agreed to open talks on resolving the education funding deadlock, the budget and other noneducation issues.
A leader of one teachers union said it would be fine if Silver became flexible on the issue.
"I don't think it's a major backtrack if he's back and working on the issue before July 30," said Alan Lubin, lobbyist for the New York State United Teachers. "It's the final product that's important to us and the real deadline is July 30."
Lubin said he heard Tuesday that the Assembly is considering doing a budget without a CFE solution.
Several Assembly members say privately that Silver should realize that a deal on CFE can't be struck because of the sharply contrasting positions of Pataki and the Senate, and that it would be best to let a court-chosen mediator figure out a plan. That plan could lead to a legislative solution months from now, said Assemblyman William Parment, D-Jamestown.
Bruno reiterated his pledge to close the session June 22 as planned. Details on a budget could be worked out during the Legislature's break, he said, and lawmakers could return in July to pass an agreement.
He said his budget bill will include $1 billion in new tax cuts over five years, including credits for businesses with fewer than 51 employees to offset health insurance costs and tax breaks for film studios that produce movies in the state.