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NY Budget Due March 31

Karen DeWitt
VOCAL New York protesters

Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders plan to meet all week, but no agreements are finalized yet on a state budget that’s due on Friday.

Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature have not yet nailed down a budget deal that could include an extension of a tax on millionaires, more tuition aid for middle class college students, and more spending on clean water infrastructure, although they continue to meet—together and in their separate party conferences—behind closed doors.

Outside the private meetings, in the public halls of the Capitol, anti-homeless protesters were demonstrating. Twenty-one were arrested.

Members of VOCAL New York want Cuomo and Republicans in the State Senate to go along with a plan by Assembly Democrats to expand the millionaire’s tax to add several higher brackets to generate even more revenue.

The group’s Jeremey Saunders says the money is not just needed for New York’s current needs, but may also be necessary if prosed federal budget cuts by President Trump and the Republican-led Congress become law.

“If anyone thinks that a Trump Presidency and a House and a Senate controlled by the GOP is not going to lead to budget cuts that impact New York, then they have their head in the sand,” Saunders said.

Gov. Cuomo held several events in recent days warning against federal proposals that could cost the state billions of dollars. Nevertheless, Cuomo is not ready to commit to expanding the existing tax on millionaires or any other income level, he says.

“I’m not doing it,” Cuomo said.

The biggest sticking points in the budget, however, have almost nothing to do with taxing and spending. Each year, the governor tacks on unrelated policy issue to the budget. This year’s include legalizing ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft outside of New York City.

A spokesman for Uber, Josh Gold, says lawmakers now have all the information they need from the companies to make a decision. A poll by Siena College finds over three quarters of New Yorkers want the services. He says legislators even have numerous regulatory models to choose from, since only upstate New York and one other state, Alaska, still ban ride hailing.   

“All New Yorkers want access to services that the rest of the country has,” Gold said.

The ride hailing companies prefer a statewide solution, but some lawmakers want each locality to be able to set up its own rules for drivers.

However, ride hailing is hung up because lawmakers have not yet agreed to another non-spending related item. And that’s a change in criminal justice rules to treat 16 and 17 year olds as juveniles, not adults in the state’s court and prison systems. Just as in ride hailing, New York lags behind 48 other states on what’s known as Raise the Age. Only North Carolina, along with New York, still treats 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the courts. Gov. Cuomo acted administratively last year to divert 16 and 17 year olds from serving time in adult prisons.

Assembly Democrats and Gov. Cuomo support Raise the Age. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said repeatedly it’s a top priority for him. Heastie, the first African American Assembly Speaker, spoke about it in February.

“Personally it’s embarrassing,” said Heastie. “To me, as a Speaker of color, it’s truly hurtful to me.”

Some Senate Republicans are be holds outs on Raise the Age. Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Western New Yorker who is also the former Erie County Sherriff, says he has concerns that some very violent crimes, such as murder, should still require a 16 or 17 year old to be tried in adult court, not family court as Raise the Age supporters believe.  

“That’s the threshold issue,” Gallivan said.

But Sen. Gallivan says he personally thinks that 16 and 17 year olds should be treated differently than adults, even if they are processed in adult criminal court.

The deadline to resolve Raise the Age and the other issues is Friday, but a work week can be a long time in state politics. And there’s still plenty of time for deals to be forged.  

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