State budget update: Optimism on 'Raise the Age,' hitting April 1 deadline

As lawmakers returned to Albany on Monday with just a few days until the April 1 state budget deadline, details about the governor’s negotiations with legislative leaders remained scarce.

But at least one measure appeared to be moving: “Raise the Age.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called in to NY1 on Monday night to say that an agreement on the measure, which would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, is “very, very, very, very close.” Cuomo, a proponent of the legislation,notably included it in his executive budget proposal this year.

Assembly Democrats this year have already passed the legislation, which would put New York in line with every other state in the country except North Carolina. Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds in New York can be tried as adults.

In recent years, state Senate Republicans have repeatedly questioned the legislation, including the impact of diverting teenage defendants into family court. In 2015 Senate Republicans proposed an alternative measure to transfer incarcerated 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult facilities, which Assembly Democrats dismissed as insufficient. Cuomo took executive action that year to shift teenagers out of adult prisons, although critics said it had little impact.

RELATED: 10 things to watch for in the state budget.

The negotiations this week seem to center on what constitutes a “violent” crime that would be prosecuted in criminal court instead of family court.

“Some of these crimes are pretty egregious,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan told State of Politics after a closed-door leaders meeting. “That’s absolutely part of the discussion right now.”

On NY1, Cuomo added that this year’s budget is different due to the uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C., and that he believes New York is being targeted by conservatives in Washington. He said he was more concerned about the federal government than he is being able to compromise with legislative leaders – even though the GOP push to repeal and replace Obamacare, which would have slashed federal aid to New York, stalled late last week.

“On-time is important. That it is right is more important,” Cuomo said. “I’ve never done a budget in this circumstance where the facts change as quickly as they do. I’m trying to get some info from Washington, on what’s in the president’s proposed budget.”

Cuomo then floated the possibility the state would just pass budget extenders until the state knows what kind of funding it will or won’t receive from the federal government.

“I am not willing to pass a budget that spends more money than we have a reasonable expectation of collecting,” said Cuomo, who is also pushing for an extension of the state's millionaires' tax. “I need to know what the numbers are and unless the Legislature is willing to fund at a responsible level, then we should just do an extender until everything else is sorted out. Everything else is on the federal government.”

After leaving the afternoon leaders meeting, Flanagan said he is confident there will be an on-time budget passed with no extenders, according to a Twitter post by The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious. One possible approach to this year’s budget could be passing a “bare bones” spending plan that postpones action on some of the issues being debated, the Daily News’ Ken Lovett reported early on Monday.

Outside of the leaders meetings, it was business as usual in the state Capitol. Many advocacy groups and lawmakers, such as a group pushing for funding to allow Medicaid to cover the cost of donated breast milk, descended upon the state Capitol Monday morning for a last-minute push to include their legislation or funding into the final state budget agreement.

Homeless advocates rallied and some conducted a sit-in calling on lawmakers to sign the $2 billion MOU funding to help the homeless crisis. About 20 protesters were ultimately arrested Monday afternoon, again, not an uncommon occurrence at the state Capitol.