As they headed home yesterday to prepare for next week’s budget battles, Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans each showed a peek of their cards.
“On Monday we are going to pass our one-house budget and it isn’t going to have Tier VI in it,” Assemblyman Jack McEneny said, referring to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial proposal to create a new, less-generous pension tier.
“Do we need it? Maybe,” he said. “But should there be public hearings? Should labor and management be at the table together? Does it have to be in the budget, since it has almost no effect on the budget, since we haven’t hired anybody?”
McEneny was also skeptical of elements of Cuomo’s budget that would remove some audit responsibilities from the state comptroller, change civil service rules and allow the governor’s office to move funds from one program into another without the legislature’s approval.
“As someone who is an historian, I am very concerned about issues that have no business being put in the budget, being put in the budget,” he said. “These things undermine our traditional checks and balances.”
While he spoke, a bell rang to signal the start of the Senate’s session, after it was delayed an hour by an extra-long Republican budget conference that produced the “2012 New Jobs –NY Job creation plan.”
The plan offers small businesses tax cuts of up to 20 percent, a 2 percent cap on state spending and a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote to approve tax increases. Senate Democrats derided the spending cap and amendment plan as “shopworn” ideas that had been proposed before and never passed.
Republican senators still have not decided whether to put health insurance exchanges in the budget, however.
Cuomo’s budget includes the exchanges, which would set up marketplaces for companies to obtain health insurance under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law – making them radioactive for some Republicans, despite support from the business community.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon and other Republican senators have repeatedly said they would not support the health exchange plan as written, in part because of lingering questions over how much it would cost the state. There is no agency that has undertaken an estimate of those costs, Hannon has said.
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif said the health exchanges were an “open issue” in negotiations. “The members have huge concerns about the costs,” he added.
When senators left their conference, though, the budget took a backseat to a Senate session dominated by Brooklyn Sen. Kevin Parker’s half-hour filibuster on church history. It was intended presumably as a lesson to Senate Republicans who declined to bring three Democratic resolutions to the floor for a vote, on the Federal Violence Against Women Act, Women’s History Month and the DREAM Act.
In the walkway between conference and the Senate chamber, Sen. John DeFrancisco politely excused himself from reporters’ questions.
“I apologize,” he said, “but I need to take my seat because I think we’re about to have a fight with the Senate Democrats.”
When the session finished, lawmakers fled the Capitol in advance of what they all said would be a painful week, though less painful than similar budget negotiations in recent years.
“There’s confidence the governor is doing a good job and he knows what he’s doing,” McEneny said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t strong disagreements on some issues.”
[Note: Headline was corrected to reflect that just the Assembly will pass a one-house, Tier VI-less budget next week.]
Tags: Albany, Andrew Cuomo, assembly, audit, Barack Obama, checks and balances, civil service, comptroller, Democrat, filibuster, health insurance, healthcare, historian, insurance exchange, Jack McEneny, John DeFrancisco, Kemp Hannon, Kevin Parker, labor, lawmakers, pension, Republican, Scott Reif, Senate, tax cut, Tier VI, women
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