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Qns state senators hash out Albany budget deal

Queens state Senators were pleased that the budget would likely be passed on-time, but worred that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was still negotiating too many details behind closed doors. AP Photo/Mike Groll
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens lawmakers in the state Senate put in a marathon session lasting until the wee hours of Wednesday morning in hopes of having Albany pass an on-time budget, but some were not thrilled by the process.

The borough’s Senate delegation finished passing its version of the $135.1 billion budget at around 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), which included several provisions like a state increase in the minimum wage that were perceived as watered-down by the borough’s Democrats. Other proposals supported by borough lawmakers, such as the state Dream Act, did not make the cut.

Despite being in the minority, Senate Democrats proposed a series of bills during the lengthy session that were immediately shot down by Republicans, but aimed at fixing what they perceived as flaws in the final budget.

“We tried to say, for instance, instead of a minimum wage phased in over three years, we have a better bill. Our idea is a higher minimum wage that is indexed to inflation,” Addabbo said.

The current version increases the wage from $7.25 to $9 by the beginning of 2016. Senate Democrats also tried to stop a $90 million cut to programs that would serve people with developmental disabilities, which according to care providers in Queens would have a negative impact on how services are administered.

“This budget is going to hurt agencies, the smaller agencies in particular, but they all will feel the cuts,” said John DeBiase, chairman of the Queens Council on Developmental Disabilities. “Something’s gotta give.”

Now that the Senate has passed its version of the budget, the state Assembly must do the same before the documents land on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. Should the state Legislature do so before April 1, it will be the third consecutive on-time budget.

But Addabbo contends the process is still flawed.

“Why are we going to a budget hearing at 5 a.m.?” he asked. “One of our senators on the Democratic side called it the vampire budget. It should be done in the light of day.”

Yet, according to Addabbo, most of the budget’s architecture is constructed by Cuomo and the three leaders of the Legislature behind closed doors.

Some of the provisions included money for retired Off-Track Betting workers who had already finished their tenure before the gaming organization went under.

Fines will also increase for drivers who are texting and operating their phones while behind the wheel, under the new budget. Distracted motorists could now face fines up to $100 to $150 for a first offense of talking without a hands-free device. Multiple offenders could face up to a $400 fine.

But some lawmakers in the borough were disappointed that other proposals, such as the Dream Act, were not included in the budget deal.

The act would give undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children the opportunity to receive grant money to attend colleges and universities, and its omission did not sit well with Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).

“We seem determined to shrink our middle class, grow the ranks of the impoverished and widen the gap between the richest and poorest,” he said in a statement. “It’s the only way to explain the badly flawed minimum wage bill that was passed and why immigrants who want to go to college, work and pay taxes are treated like social outcasts.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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