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N.Y. Lawmakers Halve Proposed Cut in School Aid

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Heavy lobbying by New York educators appears to have fended off nearly half of the 10 percent cut in state school aid sought by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, legislative leaders said last week.

But legislators remained at an impasse over taxes and the overall budget, which was more than seven weeks past due.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-majority House were working last week on a plan that would reduce the $891-million cut in state aid to schools proposed by the Democratic Governor to perhaps $500 million.

The details of the education-finance plan were still being negotiated, however, and were not expected to be announced until the final moments of negotiations on the budget.

"The last thing that gets done is the education-aid package. It affects everybody, it's big dollars, and everybody holds back on it until it gets down to the end," explained Charles R. Carrier, a spokesman for Speaker of the Assembly Melvin H. Miller.

Nevertheless, William S. Stevens, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Ralph J. Marino, confirmed that legislative leaders were working on a plan that would take the proposed cut in education spending ''down to around the $500-million range."

"We think that a 10 percent cut in education is just too severe a hit for one year," Mr. Stevens said. "It is going to do nothing except force school districts that are bound by a lot of contracts at this point to increase their taxes to the point that they are going to have difficulty getting voter approval."

About $200 million of the up to $400 million in school aid that would be preserved under the proposal being discussed would come from new revenues, aides explained. The rest would be channeled into education by making further cuts in other areas of the budget.

Wealthy Districts Targeted

The legislative agreement to protect schools from some of the proposed cuts came after intensive lobbying pressure from educationel10lorganizations throughout the state, the aides added.

Educators "exerted as much pressure as I have ever seen," Mr. Stevens said.

Lawmakers who represent wealthier school districts, which were slated to bear the brunt of the aid reductions, threatened to derail the whole budget-negotiation process unless more money was provided for their schools, analysts noted.

Under Mr. Cuomo's proposed budget, some suburban school districts would have lost as much as 69 percent of their state aid.

Legislative leaders agreed that it was fair that wealthy systems bear the brunt of aid cutbacks, in order to spare systems with limited sources of local revenues, Mr. Carrier suggested. But they also felt that the changes in state aid needed to be carried out over a period of years, he said, "to allow the localities to readjust."

The legislative leadership is considering proposals that would prevent the state from cutting aid to any district by more than 20 percent in a year.

Already, the budget deadlock has forced many districts to approve budgets without knowing how much state money they will have.

Still At Odds on Taxes

Darren J. Dopp, a spokesman for the Governor, last week said Mr. Cuomo had proposed the deep cuts in education aid only out of necessity, in the face of a massive state deficit. Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991.)

Legislative leaders have yet to show where they will raise the revenue needed to balance the budget without making such cuts, the spokesman added.

"The Governor is a little bit exasperated," Mr. Dopp said, noting that disagreements over new revenue sources are the primary obstacle to getting a budget passed.

Mr. Cuomo had proposed $1.5 billion in higher taxes as part of his original $51.9-billion budget plan, but the legislature rejected his proposed taxes on telephone calls, gasoline, and other goods.

Speaker Miller has called for a three-year increase in the state income tax, but Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Marino have rejected that idea.

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