ALBANY – The slowly emerging state budget will give hundreds of thousands of middle-class households $350 rebate checks, while a minimum-wage increase will include tax refund benefits to employers with teenage workers.
Those were among the details trickling out Tuesday evening in the still-unresolved talks on the budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1.
The day also included the surprising revelation by one of Albany's strongest gun-control advocates that officials are re-examining components of the controversial new statute to possibly amend new restrictions on the capacity of ammunition clips.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders failed again to reach a final fiscal deal, though Cuomo talked of being close to the “contours of the framework” of an agreement.
Details did emerge about tentative deals that are the priorities of the Assembly and the Senate. For the Senate Republicans, officials said the budget will include $700 million in various personal income and small tax breaks, a number of which will be kicked into 2014 when lawmakers and Cuomo are up for re-election.
One of those is an approximately $150 million tax break to give $350 checks to about 400,000 taxpayers who have at least one child. Officials, at first, said the break would go to families with at least one child between the ages of 4 and 18; by nightfall, they said that it would apply from birth to age 18. Only household incomes between $40,000 and $300,000 would qualify, making it a progressive plan because it would have a far larger percentage impact on the lower than higher end of the income scale.
“It helps families. Democrats a couple of years ago took away the STAR rebate checks, and this is trying to help middle-income families who are struggling,” Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, said in confirming a Buffalo News report about the tax-break plan.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the tax-cut program won't kick in until 2014. Whether the checks will be mailed out in mid-November – timed just before the re-election campaigns begin for Cuomo and lawmakers – is uncertain; the old STAR rebate program had just that kind of timetable.
The minimum-wage deal, tentative until a final budget is adopted, calls for raising the current $7.25 per hour to $8 next January and to $9 in January 2016. Skelos said the hike would not apply to workers who make tips, such as waiters. He said the plan will include a tax refund for employers with workers younger than 18 to help protect them from the bump of the wage increase; Senate Republicans had sought to restrict the wage hike to those 20 and older.
“It protects employers who are hiring young people and it will also encourage them to hire young people,” Skelos said of the tax break for employers.
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, said Democrats were able to beat back GOP efforts to block a minimum-wage hike for teenagers. “We should not be holding back the earning potential of a 16-year-old who is working hard to save for college, or an 18-year-old who has decided to enter a career after graduating from high school,” he said.
In one of the more interesting developments of the day, Silver, who has pushed gun-control efforts for years, said the budget talks now include a discussion of changes to the new gun laws passed in January that could keep legal soon-to-be-banned ammunition clips holding up to 10 bullets.
He said that there are “inconsistencies” in the law that need to be addressed by April 15 when the next round of the law's provisions take effect.
Silver suggested he was open to keeping legal the current 10-bullet magazine size for guns used by homeowners for protection in their homes. “I never had a problem with that,” Silver said. The Democratic leader said the law is inconsistent because it permits owners of firearms to use guns with magazines holding 10 bullets at shooting ranges and in competitions. The new law, as of April 15, restricts magazine sales to those holding up to seven bullets; no manufacturer makes such a clip. The law permits those who own clips holding up to 10 rounds to keep them, but they can place a maximum of only seven bullets in them after April 15.
Silver said all sides agree that “some change has to be made to cure the inconsistencies.”
Could that include going back to 10-bullet magazines? “It just might, just might. As long as you ban assault weapons, that's what I care about,” he said.
Would the effort being talked about weaken the gun law, which has been the subject of still-intense criticism by gun owners? “I don't think so. The ban on assault weapons is still there. It's untouched. That's the real key of what we did,” Silver said.
In a brief appearance before reporters, Cuomo said the gun-control changes being discussed are merely “technical.” He mentioned issues involving bullet magazine sizes by police and retired police, and concerns by the movie industry that it won't be able to film movies in New York with actors using assault weapons in action scenes. Gun rights groups have had a field day with that idea, calling it ironic that officials want to let Hollywood continue to make violent movies in New York with assault weapon-carrying actors.
Cuomo disputed Silver's characterization that talks are under way about the sale of 10-bullet magazines. “No, there is no discussion of that,” he said.