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Lawmakers outline post-budget priorities


The debate over the state’s $132.6 billion spending plan for 2012-13 is over.

Now what?

Local lawmakers are preparing their portfolio of issues as the June 21 end of session approaches; with pension changes, a tax hike on millionaires, redistricting and the budget already done, small-bore issues could dominate headlines. Just not on the front page.

“Two months in the regular legislative calendar isn’t a lot of time to push new initiatives, but I’m meeting with my legislative staff next week with plans to prioritize the final push for my legislative agenda in keeping with the concerns of the various communities in my district,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, in a prepared statement. “When we return after Easter, I’m focused as to the top items and not looking to take on new issues.”

In the post-budget legislative session last year, the Senate and Assembly approved gay marriage, a property tax cap and an overhaul of the state’s ethics codes. The most dominant issue this year could be the push for an increase in the minimum wage. The next few months will be punctuated by public hearings across the state on the issue.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour; it is now $7.25. Republicans, who generally oppose the measure for fear it could hurt businesses, have proposed tax breaks for businesses.

“I haven’t seen a Senate proposal” on the minimum wage, Mr. Griffo said, “and I’m not confident that there’s support to get it passed this year. While I think that we should have a discussion on whether it could be raised and by how much, I’m not in favor of passing one without getting more public input on it.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell of Theresa, whose Democratic conference supports the minimum-wage hike, said the state is in the “information-gathering” phase. Mr. Silver proposed raising the minimum wage in a speech before the State of the State address in Albany.

“I think what we’re doing is we’re really starting the discussion about a minimum-wage increase,” Mrs. Russell said. “It was first talked about in January.”

Mrs. Russell said at a news conference that she will push for procurement changes — which could save the state money by buying in bulk — and a state version of an immigration visa.

The proposed legislation would be modeled after H2A visa reforms championed by U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. William L. Owens, both Democrats.

Immigration enforcement is typically an issue the federal government controls, Mrs. Russell acknowledged. And she said several state cases were before the courts, which could guide the state on what narrow path it could take to have its own immigration laws.

In a news release, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said the state should consider imposing a spending cap, which would limit year-to-year spending increases in the state budget. Though the measure won’t make it out of the Assembly, Mr. Blankenbush noted the state has managed to self-impose a 2 percent spending cap, which has reduced spending since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been in office.

“If we want to be responsible to our taxpayers, why not enact a permanent 2 percent spending cap like the one that was successfully self-imposed in this year’s budget?” Mr. Blankenbush said.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, will focus on education funding inequalities and mandate relief, her staff said in an email message.

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