Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie gave his first broadcast interview to public radio and television. In it, he expressed his frustrations over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to link numerous unrelated items to the state budget.
Governor Cuomo has told lawmakers that they must accept education policy changes, including adding 100 new charter schools, and making teacher evaluations more dependent on standardized tests, in order for him to agree to give the state’s schools more money. Cuomo has also said that if the legislature does not adopt an ethics package that requires full disclosure of outside income, he’ll make the budget late this year.
Speaker Carl Heastie, who’s been on the job for just over a month now, isn’t pleased with all the linkage, saying the media and the public should be “gravely concerned.”
“If you really want to have a true government that functions under democracy, legislators should not have to negotiate a budget under threats,” Heastie said. “This is America. This is New York state. The public and the media should be concerned when language and policy is tied up in negotiations and the legislature is limited to making changes.”
A 2005 court decision gave governors power to insert unrelated policy items into their budgets. The Senate and Assembly are only allowed to accept or reject the dollar amounts allotted to each budget item.
Cuomo says he “disagrees” with the Speaker’s complaints.
“We have something called the constitution,” said Cuomo who said the “predominance” of the power to make a budget lies with the governor.
“If the speaker doesn’t like the constitution of the state of New York, he could try to change the constitution,” Cuomo said.
The Assembly one-house budget resolution does not include the education and ethics measures that Cuomo has insisted upon linking to the budget, but it does mention greater disclosure of outside income. Heastie replaced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in February after Silver was charged with running a multimillion dollar kickback and bribery scheme related to outside employment at two law firms.
Speaker Heastie says he wants new rules to “assure people that there are no conflicts.”
The Assembly also lists campaign finance reform as a budget goal. Heastie says they are looking at closing LLC loopholes, which allow donors to set up Limited Liability Corporations to bundle contributions and get around donation limits. He says he also wants to place greater restrictions on personal use of campaign money.
The campaign accounts of the new Speaker were at one time under scrutiny, by Governor Cuomo’s now defunct Moreland Act Commission on corruption. Heastie had over $25,000 in unitemized expenses that were unaccounted for. He says previous news reports on that topic were “misconstrued.”
“That’s a wrong interpretation,” said Heastie, who says all of his individual unitemized credit card expenses were under $50, which is allowed under state rules. He describes the items as small items, such as office supplies or a campaign lunch.
“If people say we should have a law that you should itemize everything, that’s fine,” Heastie said. “But I think it’s unfortunate that people who follow the law still get mixed up in these kind of articles.”
Heastie says despite disagreements over linkage in the budget, he still expects the spending plan to be finished on time.