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Ultimatums issued as budget deadline approaches

Matt Ryan New York Now

State budget talks became heated in the final hours of negotiations Friday, as ultimatums were offered and there were threats of a government shutdown.

With just hours to go before the Passover holiday, the budget remained stuck over one or two key issues.

One, said Assembly Democrats, was a demand from the lone Democratic senator who sits with the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Simcha Felder wanted religious yeshiva schools to be exempt from some curriculum rules imposed by the state education department.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected that request, and they offered the Senate Republicans a stark ultimatum: Pass the majority of the budget already agreed to, or go home.

“Or it will be up to the Senate Republicans to shut down government,” Heastie said.

Felder denied that he’s the one holding up the budget. And making a reference to the two looming holidays, he said that he really doesn’t have that much influence.

“I’m not Moses, I’m not Jesus,” said Felder, who told reporters it’s not true that he’s that powerful.

“Absolutely not,” Felder said. “Just ask my wife.”

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco countered that it’s the Assembly that’s holding up the budget because Democratic members, including Heastie, want a pay raise commission.

“There’s other issues that he wants, sort of like a pay raise that he’s lusting over,” DeFrancisco said. “So we’ll see how firm his ‘take it or leave it’ is.”

Lawmakers did pass some of the budget bills Friday. One measure sets up new anti-sexual harassment policies for New York’s public and private businesses.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Cathy Young said she was involved in the talks. She calls it a “victory” for all New Yorkers.

“It actually holds individuals who work for state government accountable if they are found guilty of sexual harassment,” said Young, who added that independent contractors also will be covered under the measure.

But some Senate Democrats said the measure doesn’t go far enough. Sen. Liz Krueger said the new policies might even take away some existing rights for workers. And she wishes that lawmakers designing the new rules had listened more closely to victims first.

“We need to fix these problems,” Krueger said. “I just don’t know that we have accomplished the goals in the context of this set of bills.”

By late afternoon, the standoff on the final budget bill had mostly been resolved, and lawmakers planned to stay late and finish and try to salvage the rest of the holiday weekend.