ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, legislators in Albany are taking a week off ahead of difficult budget decisions, and Republicans in the Senate are calling for the elimination of one of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature economic development programs.

A look at stories making news:



Lawmakers are taking a winter break this week, with no meetings or session days planned in Albany.

They may need their rest for the days ahead, when the Senate and Assembly will work to pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins April 1.

While striking a budget deal is always politically challenging, this year's spending blueprint is expected to be especially difficult, thanks to a $4.4 billion budget deficit.

There are also debates about spending on health care programs, economic development, education and taxes. Cuomo has proposed an ambitious restructuring of the state's tax code intended to soften the blow of the recently enacted federal tax changes.

Cuomo's $168 billion budget proposal also includes $1 billion in new taxes and fees that are likely to run into opposition.

"We have a very difficult budget ahead of us," said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.



The state Senate's Republican majority is less than enthused with Cuomo's response to the federal tax overhaul, which includes a proposal to replace the state's income tax paid by individuals with a payroll tax paid by employers. The GOP senators are even less excited about one of the governor's top economic development initiatives originally known as START-UP, which they say should be shut down.

Cuomo introduced the program in 2014, touting it as potentially "game-changing" for the state's economy. Now known as the Excelsior Jobs Program, it allows participating businesses to partner with colleges and universities while not having to pay taxes for 10 years.

But studies have shown that the program has generated relatively few jobs despite the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds spent on advertising the program around the nation. Senate Republicans say the state's own statistics show the 156 companies involved in the program have created about 750 jobs.

"That alone should make us take a hard look and say, do we really need this program," said Senate GOP leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, this week while releasing his conference's jobs initiatives.

Republicans want to pull the plug on the program at the end of this year and redirect the $44.5 million in ad money included in Cuomo's budget to other economic development programs.



Some lawmakers will be on the clock this week, looking at the emerging popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Democratic Sens. David Carlucci, of Rockland County, and Jesse Hamilton, of Brooklyn, plan a hearing Friday in New York City that will focus on regulations and licensing for the new types of international currencies that enable peer-to-peer transactions without a middleman.

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