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Tax rebates, gun law part of long NY budget talks

Michael Gormley, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Tax rebate checks for middle-class families and revisions to New York's recently enacted gun control law are apparently among the sticky issues that have prompted legislative leaders to miss their early, optimistic target dates for passing a state budget.

Still, they continued to say after closed-door meetings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday that they are progressing, and they downplayed any tension over reaching a budget agreement, which once was expected two days previous in time for formal Senate and Assembly approval on Thursday.

"I am in no rush to get it done," Cuomo said Tuesday evening. "First, timing is important and I want an on-time budget, and we are working toward that. But second is to get as many good things done as you can."

The constitution requires that a budget be passed by April 1, and negotiators do not want to fall back into a trend of late budgets that for decades labeled Albany as dysfunctional.

Some political observers weren't reassured.

"How would you know if there's a problem?" asked Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "This is the most important thing legislators are elected to do — fashion a budget — and there has been more closed-door meetings than I think there has been in four or five years."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said rebates, if approved as expected, would go to families with at least one child and making $40,000 to $300,000 a year. The amount of the checks isn't certain but would likely be $350; one proposal sets a range up to $500 based on income. The rebates wouldn't be released earlier than 2014, an election year.

"We know we have to do a family tax cut, probably in the form of a check," said Sen. Jeff Klein of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Negotiators also are apparently contemplating changes to the state's new gun control law, passed only two months ago after the Connecticut school shootings that took the lives of 20 first-graders. New York's law prompted protests from upstaters, Republicans and gun owners.

Silver emerged from the negotiations Tuesday, saying leaders were discussing a change in the law to allow the continued sale of 10-bullet magazines and firearms that include 10-bullet magazines. Effective April 15, the current law would outlaw magazines that can carry more than seven bullets.

Ten-bullet magazines are standard in the industry, which doesn't make seven-bullet magazines. Silver said the change is needed to clarify and fix elements of the measure pushed by Cuomo and rushed into law Jan. 14.

"The law basically is inconsistent," Silver said.

Other tentative agreements include raising the minimum wage to $8 an hour in January, $8.75 a year later and $9 a year after that. The minimum wage is now $7.25.

The leaders had hoped that Tuesday's third closed-door session would produce a budget agreement. If a deal is struck Wednesday, they would have to suspend a three-day public review required by the constitution to meet their optimistic deadline of formal passage Thursday.

A Cuomo aide raised the possibility of a vote this Sunday, although that is Palm Sunday, which many lawmakers observe. Monday also is an unlikely date for a session because Passover, which Silver and other lawmakers observe, begins that night.