The budget is late, but not as late as many of its predecessors

Not to freak you out but New York leaders have pushed this into late April, May, even August.

Former Gov. George Pataki once signed a budget deal in August.

Former Gov. George Pataki once signed a budget deal in August. mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

The state Legislature passed the fourth budget extender of 2023 on Thursday, with the spending plan now 20 days late. The $3 billion emergency appropriation is good through Monday, when lawmakers will need to either approve a final budget or pass yet another extender as Albany leaders continue to argue over the $227 billion spending plan.

For those new to the state politics game, the delays in getting the budget done may seem like an irksome aberration. After all, this year’s budget is the latest in over a decade. But for long-time Albany observers, this cycle is a return to the bad old days of late budgets that would stretch into late spring, and sometimes even the dog days of summer.

Once upon a time, New York budgets regularly ran into April or May, with especially bad years stretching into June, July and even August. It was that way from about the 1980s until 2011, when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office with a pledge to pass on-time budgets. 

In 1983 and 1984, the state Legislature and the governor reached pacts before the end of March, days before the April 1 deadline, winning praise from news editorial boards for passing timely budgets two years in a row. Things started to go downhill again in 1985, when April 1 came and went without a funding plan in place. Just five years later, in 1990, it took Albany leaders seven extra weeks to reach a deal on the budget, with an agreement coming only on May 19. At the time, it was the latest spending plan in state history – but it wouldn’t keep that distinction. 

In the same decade, New York had budgets that stretched into August twice – once in 1997, when it was late for the 13th consecutive year, and again in 1999. Then-Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders announced a tentative deal the night of July 30 in 1997, but bill passage took several more days to complete. A June New York Times article from 1999 said that budget talks had only just moved from “abject stalemate to the realm of serious negotiation.” That was the first year that lawmakers did not receive pay until the state had a budget under a law signed in 1998.

A few years later in 2001, Albany officials again found themselves negotiating well into the month of June and beyond. That year, lawmakers passed a budget 125 days late, just one day sooner than the 1997 and 1999 budgets. And the state set a new record in 2004 under Pataki when the Legislature passed a spending plan in August a whopping 133 days late. The next year marked the first time since 1984 that New York approved a budget on time, bringing to a close a 20-year streak of varying degrees of lateness. The most on-time budget during that period was two days after the deadline in 1992.

But the timeliness wouldn’t last. In former Gov. David Paterson’s last year in office in 2010, he found himself in a fight with fellow Democrats, who controlled both chambers of the Legislature at the time. They finally approved the last part of the spending plan on August 3, 125 days late, but not without significant fighting beforehand. In a novel approach that angered legislators, Paterson began including significant portions of his budget priorities – including spending cuts – in emergency extenders that lawmakers needed to approve lest they allow the government to shut down.

Then came Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011 and had run on a promise of ending Albany dysfunction and ushering in an era of on-time budgets. And until 2017, he had success at getting on time or timely – within a couple days – budgets approved by the state Legislature. That year, debate over legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility led to an April 9 budget that required an extender to keep the government running. Cuomo oversaw “timely” budgets again until 2021 – his final year in office – when passage came about a week late. 

Now, Gov. Kathy Hochul has taken a very different approach to the budget. Where her predecessor prided himself on getting a spending plan approved on time, Hochul has made it clear that she doesn’t mind a late budget if it means getting her priorities in. Last year, passage came about nine days after the deadline after she injected tweaks to bail reform into the discussion just days before the budget was technically due.