NY Senate, Assembly To Release Their Budgets

Mar 9, 2019

Credit Dave Lucas / WAMC

The New York state Senate and Assembly are due to release their own versions of the state budget next week. They come as Governor Andrew Cuomo is demanding that a number of unrelated provisions be included in the spending plan. Without them, the Democrat threatens, the budget could be late.

The governor’s budget director Robert Mujica, in a statement, listed items that he said must be in the budget in order for Cuomo to agree to it. They include a congestion pricing plan in Manhattan to help pay to fix the subway system, and making the temporary property tax cap permanent. Cuomo also put in his spending plan the legalization of the adult use of marijuana.

The governor warns that if legalizing cannabis is not part of the budget, it likely will not happen at all this year. 

“If they don’t get marijuana done in the budget, you’re going to see real trouble on it,” Cuomo told WAMC on March 4. “And they’re making a mistake.”

There are also proposals in the governor’s budget that are not directly related to fiscal policy, such as reforming the state’s bail system to end cash bail. Cuomo in recent years has increasingly put non-related policy items into his spending plan. He argues he has more leverage to get them passed as part of the budget.

The governor’s requirements come at a time when the state’s finances are tightening. Cuomo’s budget office says there’s a $2.6 billion deficit, based on lowered tax collections in December and January. And the State Comptroller has determined that there is just $190 million more available than what the governor has said that the state has to spend.

Legislative leaders, who are due to release their own spending plans, were non-committal about whether they will recommend spending more than the Comptroller’s recommendations.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says his house will certainly try to live within the Comptroller’s constraints.

“We’re going to have to do our best to work within the framework that the Comptroller put out,” said Heastie.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says the Senate can “live” with the comptroller’s numbers. She says they are not that far off from what the Senate was ready to agree to before the negotiations with the governor ended unsuccessfully.

“We can certainly work with it,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We are trying to be fiscally responsible." 

Senator Stewart-Cousins says she wants to reach agreement with the Assembly and Governor on criminal justice issues, like bail reform. But she did not say that the deal has to come as part of the budget.

“There isn’t a hold up, we just want to make sure we do it right,” she said. “These things have been wrong for a very, very, very long time.”

Stewart-Cousins says it’s the first time Democrats have held the majority in both houses of the legislature in a decade. And she says some items, long supported by democrats were never fully vetted. Those include changing the state’s discovery laws to allow defendants more access to evidence held by the prosecution. 

Speaker Heastie said earlier in the year that he thought the issue of legalizing marijuana for adults should not be in the budget. He said it would be better to work it out afterwards, when there’s more time to decide the details. But Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said they’d like to use some of the revenues generated to help fix mass transit. Because of that, Heastie says he’s now leaving the door open to approving legalization earlier.

“We want to make sure we get a marijuana law that’s correct and right,” said Heastie on March 4. “At this point, I’m not giving up.”

On Friday, Heastie hardened his stance. He said that the Assembly version of the budget will include very few unrelated policy items, and will stick to fiscal matters instead. And he says he doesn’t think the governor needs to “draw lines in the sand” on linking the other proposals to the budget.