Tensions are running high in the state Capitol – and not just because of the detention of a coyote and a rogue reporter in Albany. State lawmakers are scrambling to pass $168 billion package of budget bills before a self-imposed deadline of Friday afternoon, in anticipation of Jewish and Christian holidays over the weekend.
On Friday morning, the first three budget bills were passed in both chambers of the state Legislature. These bills – the legislative and judiciary, public protection and general government, and education, labor and family assistance legislation – contained primarily non-controversial measures. There are 10 budget bills in total, with many of the most contentious provisions removed and inserted into a final omnibus bill, commonly known to Albany insiders as “the Big Ugly.” By Friday morning, lawmakers had finalized the health bill and the aid to localities appropriations bills.
Some lawmakers reported that Cuomo would seek an extender bill to temporarily fund the state government until May, punting negotiations until after the religious holidays – and the April 24 legislative special elections – but few embraced that option. Heastie said that he and Cuomo agreed to no budget extenders, with the idea that blame for a possible shutdown would fall on Felder and Senate Republicans.
As lawmakers address the final sticking points, here’s a guide to the measures we know are in and out of this year’s budget.
Without naming names, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie released a statement suggesting that budget talks were being almost single-handedly stalled by state Sen. Simcha Felder. Felder is a Democrat but he caucuses with the Republicans, who at 31 seats are just shy of a numerical majority in the state Senate.
Felder has called for eliminating state Education Department guidelines for private schools, such as yeshivas. Felder, whose district includes a large population of Orthodox Jews, has advocated on behalf of yeshivas, which have been criticized for their often lax standards.
“After months of hard work to craft a spending plan for New Yorkers, the State Budget is being held up by an unrelated non-budgetary demand in the State Senate,” Heastie said, adding, “The remaining issue, an education policy with no fiscal impact, concerns regulations for certain non-public schools.”
Felder disputed that assessment, saying, “I'm not Moses, I'm not Jesus. I'm not that powerful.”
Another sticking point is the sale of nonprofit health insurer Fidelis Care, which is run by the state’s Roman Catholic bishops, to Centene Corp. The Cuomo administration has claimed that the state is entitled to recoup much of the costs from the sale, and is now looking to capture the “excess reserves” from Fidelis. Although lawmakers are loath to incur the wrath of the Catholic Church, funding is needed to fill a budget shortfall.
Education has also been a major issue in budget debates, with more than $25 billion allocated to individual school districts. However, it is not yet known how that money will be divided, and school boards are hoping to avoid a budget extender bill, in order to approve their budgets before April 19.
A commission that would examine whether state lawmakers should get a pay raise is also under consideration.
The budget is set to boost school aid by $600 million, double what Cuomo proposed in his January budget address, and increase total school funding by $1 billion.
One of the early bills related to transportation and environmental issues, and included a provision allowing for manufacturers of self-driving cars to have another year to test their vehicles in New York. Other provisions included requiring lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers in government-owned buildings and installing diaper changing stations in men’s and women’s bathrooms.
The budget will also likely include a measure touted by Cuomo that would remove firearms from people convicted of domestic violence, despite some wariness from state Senate Republicans. Some provision updating state sexual harassment policy in the workplace is also expected to pass.
Although a proposal to fully implement congestion pricing in New York City to raise revenue for the MTA stalled, lawmakers seemed set to approve a surcharge on taxis and for-hire vehicles for rides below 96th Street in Manhattan. A controversial proposal on value-capture to help pay for the MTA is still under consideration. The budget is also expected to include $250 million for the New York City Housing Authority and install an independent monitor at NYCHA, as well as authorization for the city to use design-build for authority projects and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
The budget is also likely to introduce an optional payroll tax for businesses to circumvent the effects of the new federal tax law.
Legislation that made it illegal for police officers to have sex with detainees was also included in the budget bills passed by the state Legislature on Friday morning.
Cuomo’s controversial proposal to grant the state expanded power to develop the area around Penn Station received significant pushback from city lawmakers, and will reportedly not be included in the budget.
Although many of the tax hikes proposed by Cuomo in his January budget address as “revenue raisers” were rejected by Senate Republicans, a tax on opioid manufacturers is still under consideration and may be included.
The budget is also not likely to include a measure that would extend the statute of limitations in civil and criminal child sex abuse cases. Certain gun control measures pushed by Assembly Democrats will also be excluded.
Several ethics reform measures were left off the table, including addressing the LLC loophole, which allows donors to circumvent campaign contribution limits by donating through limited liability companies. A proposal to increase transparency into state spending on economic development projects is also likely to be left out.
Cuomo rejected a bailout request from the del Lago Resort & Casino, which asked for state funding after it made less than its projected revenues during its first year. Early voting and bail reform also dropped out.