N.Y. lawmakers, Governor Cuomo, strike budget deal before Monday vote

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo smiles as he pauses during his fourth State of the State address from the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York, January 8, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar

(Reuters) - New York state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo reached a deal on the state's 2014-15 fiscal year budget after several weeks of negotiating behind closed doors, according to state officials on Saturday. The $137.9 billion budget keeps growth in all spending levels below 2 percent and provides funding for statewide pre-kindergarten programs. It also cuts business taxes and introduces property tax relief for homeowners, Cuomo said on Saturday. The agreement came after budget bills were printed late on Friday, allowing state lawmakers to vote on the plan on Monday, the last day of the state's financial year. If passed, the budget would mark Cuomo's fourth on-time budget in a row. "It has to be passed and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but it was a good piece of work," Cuomo told reporters on a conference call. The new budget earmarks $1.5 billion in property tax relief for homeowners. It also includes an increase of more than 5 percent in school aid, $300 million of which will go to pre-kindergarten in New York City and provides new protections for charter schools. Lawmakers rejected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's request for a tax hike on the city's wealthy to help fund classes for preschoolers and to pay for after-school programs. Mayor de Blasio said in a statement that with Saturday's announced investments, the state made a powerful and historic decision that will change the lives of tens of thousands of children. "We set out down this road nearly 18 months ago. Through ups and downs, we never wavered from our promise to the people of this city to expand full-day pre-K and afterschool for our children starting this September," he said. The budget also looks to cut state taxes and create jobs by establishing a 20 percent real estate property tax credit for manufacturers who own or lease property. Beginning in 2014, it will slash the tax rate on income for all manufacturers from the current 5.9 percent to zero. Through budget initiatives, tougher bribery and anti-corruption laws will be implemented, and about $162 million will go to New York's Environmental Protection Fund, an increase of $9 million over the previous budget. Young people and new drivers will also face stricter laws governing texting while driving. Licenses will be suspended for 120 days for first-time offenders, and a year's suspension will be imposed for those convicted twice. At the same time, the state's budget will fund a New York Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice. The commission will be entrusted to develop recommendations on ways to help raise the age at which juveniles are tried. New York is one of only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year olds through the adult criminal justice system. (Reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago and Edward Krudy in New York; editing by Gunna Dickson and G Crosse)