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State budget has pros and cons; are longer school days ahead?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration scored another public relations victory late last week with early passage of the state’s 2013-14 budget.

In fact, it was such a glorious accomplishment that his press office generated a press release filled to the brim with 3,170 words. The document included comments from Senate Majority Coalition co-leaders Dean G. Skelos and Jeffrey D. Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but it was clearly Cuomo’s opportunity to boast.

His most prominent quote takes us back in time two years to the days before he was elected governor.

“Year after year the budgets were late and the entire process had become a symbol for the dysfunction and chaos of Albany,” said Cuomo. “After years of out of control spending, for the third year in a row we have an on-time budget that holds spending growth under 2 percent. This is a budget that all New Yorkers can be proud of.”

School aid was increased in the new budget, but few people noticed the fine print concerning another academic issue.

The budget includes $20 million to support extended school day or extended school year programs. Schools that participate must expand learning time by 25 percent. Stay tuned.

While it is commendable that this latest budget was passed prior to the deadline, it’s not all milk and cookies in Albany. Take for example the increase in the minimum wage.

According to the governor’s office, the minimum wage will increase from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour during the next three years, beginning with $8 by the end of this year, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and $9 by the end of 2015.

The increase will put more money into the pockets of millions of New Yorkers, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where it will come from. Business owners will have difficult decisions to make when it comes time to ramp up their payroll accounts. Will they simply increase prices and pass the burden on to valued customers?

That will surely affect sales and slow the economic growth needed at this time.

If they are manufacturers of any kind, they could shrink the size of their products or make them in smaller quantities – another barrier to business.

“Small businesses, not big corporations, are where many minimum wage job opportunities exist,” according to Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business. “The best way to prevent poverty is to strengthen and support American small business survival and growth. To increase the minimum wage while most small firms are struggling will sharply increase the odds of poverty for many who depend on Main Street businesses to support themselves and their families.”

It’s a vicious circle that none of us can escape. Albany’s Catch-22 culture is as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. No one would dispute the value of men and women making more money, but when it affects the cost and availability of essential goods and services, the pendulum swings the other way.

Silver said he commends the governor and his Senate colleagues “for helping to craft a fiscally responsible, early budget that will move our state forward.” But wait, there’s more.

“This budget ensures that tens of thousands of hardworking, minimum-wage-earning New Yorkers will be receiving much-deserved and badly needed raises in each of the next two years.”

One could become permanently dizzy from riding that pendulum back and forth across New York State’s political landscape.

Here’s a different assessment of the budget from the New York State Economic Development Council: “It is disappointing that the governor and legislature chose not to lower employer costs by allowing the 2 percent utility surcharge to sunset as scheduled this April. Instead, by extending it for three years, residential and business electric bills will remain unnecessarily high, making this ‘temporary’ tax’s ultimate demise less likely.”

It’s becoming clear that Cuomo is polishing his image as he weighs future options - one press release at a time.
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