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Lawmakers reach agreement on new $168B state budget

ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers struck a $168.3 billion state budget deal late Friday night that includes surcharges on Uber and taxi rides in Manhattan, a tax on opioid makers and a new sexual harassment policy crafted following the launch of the #MeToo movement.

Also included: new money for public schools and water quality and several tax changes intended to help New Yorkers negatively impacted by the new federal tax law.

Lawmakers worked late into the night Friday to complete their work on the budget before the state's new fiscal year begins Sunday.

In detailing the deal, the Democratic governor cited the sexual harassment policy as one of the budget's best provisions.

"We have a national scandal," Cuomo said of the wave of allegations of workplace sexual harassment and misconduct in recent months. "New York should lead. That's our role."

Here are some of the final proposals and complications that emerged in the final hours of negotiations:

NYC TOLLS: In an effort to address traffic congestion and raise money for mass transit, the state will impose surcharges of $2.50 on taxi rides south of 96th Street in Manhattan. Rides on Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services in the same zone would come with a $2.75 surcharge. Supporters see the surcharges as just the first phase of a plan to roll out new congestion tolls on private vehicles in future years.

The money will go to efforts to repair and upgrade New York City subways.


The uniform policy includes protections for employees of state and local governments, as well as state contractors and freelancers. It also prohibits secret harassment settlements involving state officials, and directs state labor officials to create a new standard for sexual harassment policies for private companies. Cuomo said the policy is the first of its kind in the nation, and a powerful response to the recent national attention on sexual misconduct in the workplace.

The new policy was a priority for lawmakers in both chambers.

"That's a major victory for all New Yorkers," said Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, one of the authors of the sexual harassment provisions and the Senate's budget chairwoman. "It has several provisions in it that are going to protect everyone across the board."

Some in the Legislature say the policy doesn't go far enough in protecting workers from inappropriate workplace behavior.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has been pushing for her colleagues to crack down on sexual harassment in state government, said she was "very disappointed" with the final measure because it wasn't broad enough.

Deeming the legislation a "really good try," Krueger added: "I just wish we had gotten farther here today."

OPIOID TAX: Opioid manufacturers and distributors will pay a fee expected to raise some $100 million annually for efforts to combat addition. The specific fee for each company would be based on market share.

TAX CHANGES: Cuomo pushed to include some tax measures to help ease the pain of the new federal tax code for homeowners expecting to see their taxes go up. The new federal law caps a deduction for state and local taxes that is especially popular in high-tax states like New York. Under Cuomo's plan, the state would offer tax credits to individuals who make charitable contributions to public education or health care programs. The state also will allow companies to pay a payroll tax in lieu of their employee's income taxes. Salaries would be adjusted accordingly.

EDUCATION SPENDING: The new budget deal calls for $1 billion in additional spending on K-12 education, for a total of $27 billion.


One budget provision will create a new legislative pay commission to determine whether members of the Senate and Assembly deserve a pay raise.

Lawmakers now make a base salary of $79,500 and haven't seen an increase since the late 1990s. Many lawmakers — particularly Assembly members from New York City — say their salaries haven't kept up with inflation.

A commission created in 2016 ultimately voted against a pay increase.

Woman injured in grease fire at Auburn home

An Auburn woman suffered serious burns to her left arm Friday in a grease fire at her home. 

At around 11:53 a.m., the Auburn Fire Department responded to a home at 21 Court St. Upon arrival, Assistant Chief Mike Grady said firefighters found the flames contained to the kitchen, and the fire was quickly controlled. 

Grady said Lynette Jones had been cooking chicken fries when some grease boiled over and caught fire. He said her left arm and side were significantly burned and she was transported to the hospital for treatment. 

According to bystanders at the scene, two women were leaving the YMCA when they saw Jones run screaming from her home. The women said they stayed with Jones and her two dogs while waiting for firefighters to arrive. 

Grady said Jones was the only one injured in the fire, and both dogs were safe. Although there had been heavy smoke, he said there was minimal damage to the residence. 

Grady also said this was the third or fourth grease fire the department has responded to this month, and he issued a reminder to use extreme caution when cooking on the stove. 

"If you have a fire on the stove top in a pan, put a cover on the pan and try not to move it," he said. "Usually the best way to extinguish it is to cover the fire." 

Gallery: Woman injured in grease fire at Auburn home

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Cuomo urges commission to maintain Lake Ontario outflows to avoid flooding

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopes the International Joint Commission reconsiders  decreasing Lake Ontario outflows beginning Friday. 

Outflows decreased from 8,950 to 8,550 cubic meters per second on Friday. Frank Bevacqua, a spokesperson for the International Joint Commission, said the reduced outflows coincide with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway navigation season. 

But Cuomo is concerned about a repeat of what happened in 2017 along the Lake Ontario shoreline. Record rainfall increased water levels, which led to flooding in several communities along the lake. The village of Fair Haven in Cayuga County was one of the affected communities. 

Cuomo sent a letter to Lana Pollack, U.S. chair of the commission, requesting the panel to either maintain or increase outflows to reduce the chance of flooding. 

"After the disastrous flooding situations on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River last year, it is critical that we remain vigilant and take whatever measures are necessary for ensuring that history does not repeat itself," Cuomo said in a statement. "While New York has undertaken a wide range of preventative measures to protect against flooding, it would all be negated if the IJC mistakenly reduces outflows." 

Outflows have been maintained at high levels from September through this month, Bevacqua said. Even with significant amounts of water being released, it's unclear whether flooding will be an issue again this year. 

The lake is about six inches above its long-term average, but it's about seven inches lower than it was at this time last year. Bevacqua compared the lake levels in 2017 to 2016, when it was also about seven inches higher than the current level. But flooding wasn't a problem in 2016. 

Bevacqua said the current lake level is a "poor predictor" of whether there will be flooding later this spring. 

"What happened last year was unusual and unlikely to recur, but it is possible," he added. 

The state is preparing for possible flooding. Cuomo directed state agencies to ensure the Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team is ready for deployment. The team includes employees from the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Financial Services, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, the New York State Police and the Office of General Services. Local government agencies are also part of the response effort. 

Resources are already being deployed to counties along the lake. The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has started to distribute nearly 250,000 sandbags and sandbagging equipment, according to the governor's office. 

Drunk driver's prison sentence revoked on appeal, sent back to Cayuga County Court

One of New York state's highest courts has vacated the sentence imposed on a Genoa man who violated his probation in Cayuga County. 

In 2011, Claude Zirbel, of 9569 Creeks Road, pleaded guilty to felony driving while intoxicated and first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in Cayuga County Court and was sentenced to 1 1/3 to four years in prison plus five years probation. 

According to the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division, after serving the full four years in prison, Zirbel was charged with violating his probation in 2015 when he was caught in possession of alcohol during a home visit by his parole officer. He admitted to the violation and was restored to probation. 

Then, in July 2016, Zirbel violated his probation a second time when he was arrested and charged with his sixth drunk driving offense in the town of Cortlandville

Zirbel pleaded guilty to felony driving while intoxicated in Cortland County and was sentenced to one to three years in prison. Meanwhile, in Cayuga County, he reappeared before Judge Thomas Leone, who revoked Zirbel's probation and resentenced him to 2 1/3 to seven years in prison. 

Zirbel appealed the sentence. Attorney David Elkovitch argued that Zirbel "maxed out his underlying time" and could not be sentenced to additional prison time for the violation. And on March 23, the Appellate Division agreed and ordered that the case be sent back to Cayuga County Court for resentencing

"We agree with defendant that the court lacked the authority to sentence him to more prison time after his initial term of imprisonment was completed," the Appellate Division said in its decision. "Defendant served the maximum term of imprisonment imposed ... and we conclude that he cannot be subjected to additional prison time under the guise of a sentence based on a probation or conditional discharge violation when, in fact, he was resentenced for the initial offense."

Zirbel was released on parole in December 2017.

In other news: 

• The Appellate Division has upheld the convictions of two men in Cayuga County. 

First, the Appellate Division affirmed the conviction of James Davis, who pleaded guilty to the attempted menacing of a police officer or peace officer in March 2017.

According to the court, Davis argued that his indictment should be dismissed because the prosecutor failed to inform the grand jury of his request to call witnesses. However, the court said Davis' contention was "without merit" as the DA's Office did read Davis' request to the grand jury, which could determine whether it wanted to hear testimony from those witnesses. 

"By pleading guilty, defendant forfeited his further contention that the indictment should be dismissed because the prosecutor failed to introduce exculpatory evidence before the grand jury," the Appellate Division said. 

In addition, the court ruled that the county court had imposed the legal minimum sentence for a class E felony committed by a second felony offender; thus, it said there was no basis to Davis' claim that the sentence was too severe. 

Finally, the Appellate Division upheld the conviction of Eric Allen. Allen pleaded guilty to felony driving while intoxicated in March 2017, but later argued that he was deprived of a speedy trial. The court ruled that Allen had forfeited his right to claim he was deprived of a speedy trial by pleading guilty.