By Josefa Velasquez
ALBANY— New York legislative leaders who met for hours behind closed doors Tuesday trying to finalize the state budget due next week came away saying they were making progress.
The leaders offered no details on property tax relief, prekindergarten funding or the possibility of financial aid to students living illegally in the country, saying that all issues are being discussed and that they were making "tremendous progress."
"I don't think we're going to have an agreement today, but we're working toward one," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leaders would need to reach a budget agreement by Friday to leave enough time ahead of the April 1 deadline to both print bills and have a three-day public review period, though the governor could waive that requirement. As negotiators and staff members worked against the clock Tuesday, some advocates came to the Capitol to make eleventh-hour pleas.
Advocates pushing for public campaign financing in the state budget said just 170 people contributed $28.2 million last year, accounting for just over half the money that went to state-level candidates and party committees. The New York Public Interest Research Group released the list of top donors to illustrate the dominant role of big money in New York politics.
Cuomo had proposed public financing in his budget, but Republicans oppose it.
"This system is a closed system," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "It does not allow for the voice of the voter. It allows for the big-moneyed special interests to have a very big megaphone."
The donor list is full of real estate interests, unions and major corporations that contributed more than $50,000. The state Democratic housekeeping committee and Cuomo were top recipients.
With talks set to resume late Tuesday, it appeared that tensions between Silver and Senate Republican co-leader Dean Skelos have eased. Skelos, who left a meeting abruptly Friday complaining of problems, jokingly put his arm around Silver after their meeting Tuesday.
"Look how much I love Shelly," Skelos said.