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New York state passes budget on time third year in a row

By Cheryl Clark

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York's Assembly passed the state's $135 billion budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 on Thursday just before midnight, the third budget in a row to be delivered on time in a state known for regularly being late.

Lawmakers rushed to sign off on the legislation during a week that was punctuated with religious holidays and have succeeded in getting the job done ahead of the start of the state's fiscal year on April 1.

Getting the budget ready on time may not sound like much to be proud of, but it is being touted as a triumph in a state where seasoned budget watchers recall over a decade of tardiness when budgets would sometimes run into late summer.

"While three on-time budgets in a row shouldn't sound like much, in New York state this is the first time it has happened in almost 30 years," state Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a video address on his website on Friday. "Year after year the budgets became a flashpoint for the chaos and dysfunction of state government."

Stripping the government in Albany of its tardy image was key for Cuomo who is keen to burnish his credentials as a capable operational manager able to bridge party lines. His name has often been raised as a possible Democratic presidential candidate when President Barack Obama's term ends in 2016.

The Assembly's 13-hour session broke up just before midnight on Thursday and featured extended debate over a stack of failed amendments. They included one that tried to torpedo a tax incentive widely seen as a way to lure the Tonight Show, a popular and long-running late-night talk show, from California back to New York City where it began life in the 1950s.

The measure provides a tax break for certain types of television production and has detailed criteria that fit the Tonight Show. There have been reports that its producers at NBC are considering bringing it back to New York.

A Republican amendment to restore $90 million in funding for the developmentally disabled failed but there were impassioned pleas to revisit the issue on both sides.

The money was cut because a Washington Congressional committee said New York state was overbilling the federal government for Medicaid funds for centers that treat people with developmental disabilities. That led to the state cutting $1.1 billion from the budget proposal in February.

Religious holidays during the week complicated the ratification process. The Senate signed off on the budget after a session that broke up two hours before dawn on Wednesday.

As a package the budget holds spending growth under 2 percent; raises the minimum wage incrementally to $9 an hour by the end of 2015; extends higher tax rates for millionaires and tax breaks for the middle class that were to expire next year.

It also increases state funding for schools by $1 billion and creates a tax rebate program that will deliver $350 checks to a million middle-income families with children right before state elections in 2014.

The budget also closes a $1.3 billion spending gap. Cuomo has succeeded in narrowing a budget gap that was around $10 billion when he took office in 2011.

Standard & Poor's rates New York's bonds AA with a positive outlook and praised the state's conservative budgeting in a report at the beginning of March.

However, the state still faces significant economic difficulties, especially in the north where a decades-long outflow of industries has left high unemployment.

"New York faces an ongoing challenge maintaining budget balance amid slow economic growth and tax revenue that persistently lags projections," the state top financial watchdog Thomas DiNapoli said in statement on Friday. "The year ahead won't be an easy road."

(Writing by Edward Krudy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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