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Utility surcharge causing concern in Cuomo’s budget

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Albany/HV: Utility surcharge causing concern in Cuomo’s budget
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State senators are raising concerns about Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal, particularly the extension of a utility surcharge. They argue it's actually a tax and one that businesses can't afford right now. Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman has the latest.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- There's growing agreement between Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Albany that an extension of a utility tax surcharge as proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo needs to be removed from his $142.6 billion budget plan. Democratic Senator Tony Avella of Queens signed on to a Republican letter last week urging the governor to rethink extending the surcharge for another five years.

“If it's a good idea, I'm going to support it. And in this case, we pay some of the highest utility bills in the country and I think what we need to do is reduce the burden on some of the consumers,” Avella said.

The surcharge is due to expire in March 2014. Cuomo wants to keep the tax going until 2018 in order to balance the budget and raise more than $200 million. But lawmakers in Albany seem to agree the surcharge, known as the 18a assessment, needs to be allowed expire.

Avella said, “If it's a good idea, I don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat, we should support it.”

Also questioning the tax extension is Senator David Valesky, part of the Independent Democratic Conference that's in a majority coalition with the Senate GOP.

“I've been concerned about the impact of that tax ever since it was imposed, back in 2009 I believe. I think it's important to pass a budget this year that reduces the tax burden to as great a degree possible on all New Yorkers,” Valesky said.

Senate Republicans say they hope to work with Cuomo on getting the tax extension taken out of the spending plan. GOP lawmakers held a news conference last week to push for the tax to be taken out of the budget.

“We want to work with the governor to get this out. This is an onerous tax on businesses, senior citizens, you saw at the press conference. It was a pretty broad spectrum,” said State Senator George Maziarz.

As for Cuomo, he says he's willing to negotiate the budget's finer provisions, but downplayed any broader disagreements with lawmakers.

“I believe, this year, we have had fewer and much less heated divisions than we have had in the past, but 18a is one of those issues that we're going to agree to disagree,” Cuomo said.

The budget is due April 1st.

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