State lawmakers aim to pass early state budget

Andrea Stewart Cousins 2020
Andrea Stewart Cousins 2020
Hans Pennink/AP/Shutterstock
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (left) in the Senate chamber.

State lawmakers aim to pass early state budget

Facing the threat of coronavirus, Albany still faces hurdles in achieving a final deal in the next week.
March 14, 2020

State lawmakers are aiming to strike a three-way budget deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the upcoming week as state efforts continue to contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to multiple state Senate sources.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins reportedly told senators on Saturday of the new plans to skip the one-house budget proposals that the state Senate and Assembly were expected to release in coming days. With the confirmed cases of coronavirus now exceeding 500 in New York, the upcoming week could be the last one lawmakers spend in Albany this year.

But before the could happen, they have to either agree to set aside a litany of controversial issues or otherwise resolve them in a matter of days in order to pass a state spending plan for the upcoming year that is due on April 1. There are no guarantees that will happen. 

One state Senate source said it remains to be determined whether the upcoming budget would be based on Cuomo’s current proposal or would be more of a continuation of the current year’s state budget. “I think discussions are still ongoing,” said the source.“It’s a fast-moving crisis and the Legislature needs to respond to the sense of urgency.” 

Outstanding differences on issues like bail reform, recreational marijuana and cuts to the state Medicaid program could make it difficult to reach a deal in the upcoming week. Some lawmakers worry that the truncated timeline would create the opportunity for controversial provisions to make their way into a final budget. “This is a prime environment for things to be snuck in and that is what we have to stay vigilant about,” said one Democratic senator who believes discussions between the three leaders have already been taking place for days. 

NY1’s Zack Fink tweeted on Saturday afternoon that the final budget deal would likely not include some of the legislative proposals in Cuomo’s original budget proposal, though there is likely to be a provision included in the deal that would reduce the number of signatures needed for candidates to get ballot access in upcoming elections. 

Sources said that it makes sense to curb the activity of the Legislature given the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak, but that lawmakers need time to scrutinize a budget deal reached by the two legislative leaders and the governor. “It didn’t sound like it would be as robust as it would during a full process,” said the Democratic senator. “(But) I don’t think there should necessarily be a reduction in the timeline.”

While sources confirmed that senators have already been informed of plans by the two legislative leaders and the governor to strike a budget deal this week, multiple members of the Assembly told City & State that they have not heard similar confirmation from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. However, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou said that she was told to pack her bags with enough clothes to last beyond this coming Wednesday. Originally, lawmakers were originally scheduled to leave Albany that day and then return for five straight days the following week as the April 1 budget deadlne approaches.

Representatives of Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie were not immediately available for comment. 

It is unclear whether contingency plans are being developed that would allow lawmakers to convene and cast votes through digital meetings. “I think this is an opportune moment to take advantage of technology to figure out how the Legislature can continue to work,” said the Democratic senator.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.