Heard Around Town

NY Legislature approves fourth budget extender

The state Senate approved an April 15 extension Thursday, and the Assembly is expected to do so on Friday.

The budget is going to be more than two weeks late this year.

The budget is going to be more than two weeks late this year. Darren McGee - Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The state Senate has approved its fourth budget extender until April 15, and the Assembly is expected to follow suit Friday. But with the spending plan now 11 days late – the third year in a row lawmakers blew past the deadline – does it really matter? One top Democrat said that getting the budget right matters more than getting it done one time. 

“I never hear from a constituent that they’re worried about a late budget,” state Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger said on the floor Thursday. She said that the people she represents want “a good budget,” the same as lawmakers. “But as long as we are paying our bills, we are assuring people that the government of New York state continues to operate, there is no interference in any issue or work that needs to be done,” Krueger said. She argued the constituents care about the specifics of what does or does not make it into the final budget, which lawmakers are continuing to determine.

Krueger was responding to Republican state Sen. Jim Tedisco, who blasted the latest emergency appropriations bill as negotiations continue to drag on. “I want to give you a message from my constituents,” he said on the floor. “They don't want extenders.” Tedisco said that his constituents tell him that they “don’t want a good late budget,” pointing out the fact that lawmakers are ignoring the constitutionally established April 1 deadline with no consequence.

Although late budgets certainly are not a good look, Krueger has a point that the average voter likely is not terribly concerned about blown deadlines so long as the government keeps running and they are not directly impacted. In 2022, when the budget was roughly nine days late, the issue barely registered with voters when elections rolled around. Rather, crime and public safety dominated the most contentious of the races that year, including the race for governor. It likely explained why Gov. Kathy Hochul was willing to hold up the budget for over a month the following year in 2023 in order to win additional tweaks and rollbacks to the state’s 2019 bail laws. 

But government watchdogs are cautioning lawmakers not to get complacent and fall back into bad habits. New York used to regularly approve budgets weeks or even months late before former Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office. In 2010, a year before Cuomo took office, lawmakers did not finish approving the spending plan until August. “New York risks slipping back to the bad old days where late budgets became the accepted norm,” Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein said in a statement. “That should not happen. The Governor and legislators should publicly commit to this being the last extender.”

With continued extenders to ensure the lights stay on and state workers continue to get paid, the impact of a late budget on the average New Yorker is minimal. But there’s a limited grace period before a blown deadline becomes more than an academic exercise in good governance. “The later the budget, the more problems,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the good government group New York Public Interest Research Group. “Localities have a harder time developing their budget, school district votes become more intense and lawmakers face a more limited opportunity to take on important non-budget issues.”

To Horner’s point, school districts across the state are meant to have their budgets ready between April 30 and May 7 this year ahead of a May 21 vote. Knowing how much state aid they will be receiving is crucial for school officials to figure out their own spending plans. Without a finalized state budget, they’re left in the dark. This year, the issue is particularly poignant since Hochul had initially proposed cuts to a large number of districts across the state. While there is still time before the deadline for districts, the longer lawmakers take, the more pressure local school officials will be under. And interfering with school aid during an election year is one thing that most lawmakers agree should be avoided.

The more time that lawmakers spend on the budget, as Horner said, the less time they have to work on other issues in the second half of the legislative year. Lawmakers’ last day of scheduled session this year is June 6, so they already had a truncated timeline post-budget for other policy items.