Silver: “We Passed The Budget. We Passed The Budget Again”

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The state Assembly is gone for the day, wrapping up after a few hours this afternoon to remove a tax on out-of-state hedge fund managers from the budget and pass a contingency plan if $1 billion in federal Medicaid aid doesn’t come through.

“We passed the budget. We passed the budget again,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, told reporters after the session ended. He was referring to the initial budget vote in early July and the latest budget revisions today that took out the controversial hedge-fund tax.

Silver said he didn’t think they were done for the year, but he said they are done with the budget. There’s a general sense that lawmakers will be back after the September primaries to pass additional legislation.

The Assembly left without taking up the SUNY Empowerment bill that would give public colleges more flexibility to set tuition rates. The Senate started to vote on it this afternoon, but swiftly laid aside the bill when it was clear there wasn’t the 32 votes necessary to pass it.

Reiterating concerns about SUNY Empowerment leading to big tuition increases, Silver said there is simply no deal on the measure, which has been pushed hard by Gov. David Paterson and the colleges.

“There’s no agreement on it. We think the public universities of this state should be open and available to everybody. We believe affordability is important,” Silver said.

“That SUNY empowerment bill is a tax on the middle class, and we are not prepared to provide that tax on the middle class,” he continued.

The Assembly also left without taking up a property-tax cap that the Senate passed today 51-8. Again, Silver said that a tax cap is flawed and property-tax relief comes through increased school aid so districts don’t have to raise taxes.

“There is not a majority of our conference in support of it. Plain and simple, ” Silver said of a property-tax cap. “Certainly in a year when we are cutting back resources to localities and to school districts, for us to be saying to them and you need to cut back as well significantly. That’s just part of the problem we have here.”

Silver’s stance, however, contradicts reports on school taxes and spending. Between 1993 and 2006, state aid to schools soared – from $12 billion to $22 billion, according to the Albany-based Rockefeller Institute for Government.

But during the past six years in particular, school property taxes rose an average of 5 percent, state records show. In the 2004-05 school year, for example, state spending on schools grew 6.3 percent — but school taxes grew by 8.3 percent.

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