The State Budget at First Glance

ALBANY—The budget bills are out!

A lot of the more salient details have already been reported. As legislators, their staffs and reporters comb through more will come out. But here's a quick list:

— No one knows the overall size of the budget. Really.

The five-cent bottle deposit will be extended to water containers. David Paterson had originally proposed including juice as well, but the measure was pared back in light of protests from small-store owners and bottlers. There are some exemptions from accepting returns for small stores. The money raised will be dedicated to the general fund.

The personal income tax will rise for those earning more than $300,000, with a further increase for those earning more than $500,000. It is expected to raise roughly $4 billion. It will sunset in three years.

Education aid will remain at its current levelszero, with stimulus money plugging a proposed $700 million cut and adding some funding for poorer districts under the Title I program. A scheduled payment in conjunction with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit will not go forward.

— A proposal to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores was beaten back.

— Member items of $85 million for each house, consistent with what was appropriated in years past. The governor will also get some money.

— About 70 percent of the money proposed to be cut from hospitals will be restored, but some of the restructurings David Paterson has pushed for will go through. About 60 percent of the proposed cuts to home care are made whole, as are 43 percent of cuts to nursing homes. A proposed nursing home rebasing—where costs are reassessed and, usually, a higher reimbursement rate is enacted—will be postponed a year. Most of the restorations were done using FMAP money from the stimulus package.

A proposed tax on utilities has been tweaked significantly, though I'm not sure of the details.

The Commission on Investigation was eliminated.

"I really believe that the fact that everybody is upset at this budget shows it did what it needed to do," said State Senator Neil Breslin, who arrived at the Capitol Sunday before many of his colleagues.

But looking at the nuts of what's in and out, the consensus is that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came out the biggest winner. His conference has been pushing for the millionaire's tax—which was greeted with delight by liberal advocacy groups and the Working Families Party.

The bottle bill seems a genuine compromise. Some state senators had argued it would disproportionately affect small businesses, and modifications were made as such. If anything, it breaks as a win for the governor and (and Judith Enck, Paterson's deputy secretary for the environment), who proposed a sweeping measure in the budget and fought for it.

Additionally, it's worth noting that the income tax championed by the Working Families Party and several unions is included. This is a major win for them, and a big demonstration of their political muscle. The same can be said of the Healthcare Association of New York State, SEIU 1199 and the Greater New York Hospital Association when considering restorations to health care funding.

Two of the nine budget bills were introduced after midnight, meaning they can't be acted upon until Wednesday without a message of necessity from the governor. This will deny Democrats the satisfaction of passing an on-time budget with the normal standards for review, but if the bills are passed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday—one minute past the deadline, is it really blown?

I asked Breslin whether this budget was a win for Silver, and what Majority Leader Malcolm Smith could point to as a victory.

"I think, really, in the first year of a Democratic majority to keep the conference together is a huge victory," he said. "And this shows he's done an extraordinary job attracting the best and brightest to his central staff."

UPDATE: I clarified a phrase in the section on education funding. The increase in aid is zero, not the aid itself. The State Budget at First Glance