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Senate Passes Some Budget bills, Assembly Waits Until Thursday

Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

The New York State Senate held a rare Sunday session at the Capitol, in an attempt to get the state budget finished on time in the midst of major religious holidays.

The State Senate met to vote on three previously agreed upon budget bills, in an attempt to finish the spending plan without interfering with the Easter and Passover holidays.  Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco explained it on the Senate floor.

“We’re trying to jumpstart the process,” said De Francisco, who says starting early gives everyone “ample time” for debating the bills.  

But the Assembly, which was also supposed to have come to Albany to vote on the same bills, put off their session until Thursday.

Off the Senate floor, Senator DeFrancisco and his colleagues  expressed annoyance that the Assembly did not show up.

“It’s kind of frustrating to me that we’re ready to come back Sunday, and that was the plan, and unilaterally the Assembly Speaker decides that he’s calling his conference back on Thursday,” said DeFrancisco. “You’re going to have to talk to him about what the motive is.”

Some key budget bills remained undecided Sunday evening, meaning that the legislature could not vote on them until at least Wednesday or Thursday. They include ones that deal with a plan to phase in an increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour, and to provide rebate checks of $350 to middle class families.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says as far as he’s concerned, all remaining budget items are settled, and he put the ball in the Assembly’s Court, saying it’s up to Speaker Sheldon Silver to decide whether the spending plan is wrapped up by the end of the week.

“Now it’s up to the Speaker to make a determination as to whether he wants an on time budget or he doesn’t want an on time budget,” Skelos said.

Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland says Assembly members have been told to return to the Capitol  Thursday to vote on all of the spending bills.  And he says negotiations on the final items were on going Sunday night.

On the Senate floor, some Black and Hispanic members were critical of a budget process that they say has left them out.  Senator Kevin Parker, a Democrat from Brooklyn, complained that no minorities or women were part of the top level budget talks, were most decisions were made.

Senator Parker was also angered over the failure so far to come up with a bail out plan for the financially troubled State University Downstate Medical Center, which treats underserved patients in Brooklyn, and graduates 800 medical professionals each year.  Parker questioned recent ads run by the Cuomo Administration saying “New York is open for business”.

““It must not be open for business in Brooklyn, because you’re closing the fourth largest employer in Brooklyn,” Parker said. “ And then you want my vote for that.”

He voted no on the budget bills.

Senator Adriano Espaillat, also a Democrat, who represents parts of the Bronx and Manhattan, decried the lack of funding for the Dream Act in the budget. It would provide college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants. He says the vote was lack of the Dream Act in the budget was particularly egregious on a weekend that brought hundreds of young Latinos to the Capitol for the annual Somos El Futoro conference.

“I think that’s a very negative shortfall for this budget,” Espaillat said.  

Senators will meet again Monday, then break for about a day and half so that some members can observe Passover.  They intend to be back at the Capitol again Tuesday evening.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.