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Progress on budget means city funding could take a hit after all

ALBANY — As budget talks enter their final hours, lawmakers still say they have not made up their mind about whether New York City will get back the funds it lost when it missed a state deadline to adopt a teacher evaluation deadline.

Still, the chances are dimming.

Just last week, after Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited legislators and asked them to restore the $240 million in increased aid, there were signs that at least some aid could be forthcoming. On Friday, lawmakers said they expected that much of the aid deficit would be plugged by drawing on a $290 million pot of education funding.

But that pot needs to be divvied up among many competing priorities, including cash-strapped upstate and Long Island school districts whose local budgets have been hit by a state-imposed cap on property taxes.

Negotiations seem to have changed during the very fluid, closed-door meetings underway among Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein. As recently as last week, Silver vowed that only full aid restoration would satisfy him, but today, after the first of three leadership meetings, Silver said he was trying at a minimum to make sure that the cuts would apply only for this year, something Cuomo has already promised. It was the first time that Silver acknowledged the possibility that the aid would not be added back into the city’s budget.

After the third meeting this afternoon, Klein told reporters that the issue remains completely on the table, and school aid issues are frequently some of the last dealt with before a budget deal gets struck. But sources close to the negotiations said prospects are not looking good for the city.

Statewide, the Assembly’s education budget calls for a spending increase of $834 million in formular aid, $334 million more than what is proposed in Cuomo’s budget.

“There will be increased aid,” Silver said this afternoon. “We’re hoping to [add] significant money to education statewide.”

Other issues remain unresolved, as well. Lawmakers say they’re close to a settlement on an agreement to roll out a plan to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour, but now they are struggling over a plan to decriminalize marijuana and whether to relax some restrictions from Cuomo’s controversial gun law. Those appeared to be lawmakers’ main focuses this afternoon.

Cuomo and the legislative leaders initially wanted to pass the state’s $136.5 billion budget by Thursday, and go home in time for the Easter and Passover holidays before resuming the session April 15. That would have required a deal on Monday, because once a plan is agreed upon, lawmakers have to wait three days before voting on the budget bill. But the leaders have now acknowledged that they’ll be here until at least Friday, and some legislative staff are being told to extend their hotel reservations to Saturday.

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