Where things stand with the New York state budget – City & State

State lawmakers had yet to release all of their budget bills in the early afternoon on Wednesday, but they appear to be on the brink of passing legislation that would authorize a $3 billion environmental bond act, legalize e-bikes and expand prevailing wage requirements.

These provisions are all part of an amended budget bill dealing with transportation, economic development and environmental issues that was released on Wednesday. The state Senate passed the bill late in the afternoon, and lawmakers will likely be voting late into the night as more budget legislation gets released. Most of the 10 budget bills needed to keep the state government operating have yet to pass both houses of the state Legislature as lawmakers once again stretch the meaning of what is a timely passage of the budget due by April 1.

A bill that would allow Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make spending cuts, based on the level of state revenues, was included in a funding bill for localities that was introduced Wednesday morning. Changes to bail reform, a freeze on funding for public education and changes to the state Medicaid system also appear on track to be included in the final budget package though more than a half-dozen budget bills dealing with environmental issues, economic development, transportation and a litany of other issues have yet to pass the state Legislature.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state Senate had passed bills dealing with transportation/economic development/environmental conservation as well as public protection, capital projects, revenues, and state debt. The Assembly has passed a debt bill.

There had been hopes this year to pass the budget early while the state responds to the coronavirus pandemic, which has scrambled revenue projections and opened a deficit that appears to be in excess of $10 billion as state revenues falter. However, like many state budgets before, contentious issues like education and health care have held things up until the first day of the new fiscal year.

Bail has been the biggest remaining sticking point between Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, with Heastie still holding the line on the issue despite pressure from the state Senate and Cuomo.

While the governor has not gotten everything he wants in the budget, he appears to be on his way to getting many of the policy proposals that he pitched in his State of the State address less than three months ago. This likely includes legalization of paid gestational surrogacy appears to be on the brink of passing, along with a new domestic terrorism law, authorization to expand Penn Station through eminent domain.

All of this is being decided with minimal public discussion or input, with final votes on the remaining budget legislation likely sometime Wednesday. The challenges have been particularly daunting for the two legislative leaders, who face a governor whose formidable leverage in budget negotiations has only strengthened in recent weeks.

A budget deficit can give any fiscally-minded governor a chance to deny lawmakers their funding priorities, whatever their merits, by pleading poverty. Cuomo has been arguably doing this for months, but he doubled down on it in recent days by claiming there is nothing easier than passing a budget when you have no money. Cuomo has suggested before that means lawmakers should give state Budget Director Robert Mujica the authority to unilaterally cut spending every fiscal quarter based on state revenues which is what the budget bill for localities will do. Assuming this is adopted, what is decided in the state budget could ultimately be changed by the governor later on.

It will be up to Heastie and Stewart-Cousins to prevent the sweeping cuts that Cuomo has said are coming to public education and other programs and lawmakers as a whole are not exactly feeling optimistic, especially now that legislative staff are among the public employees who have to go without pay until the state operations budget passes.

Heres a detailed roundup of where things stand on some key issues.

The revenue bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday did not include any new taxes on the wealthy despite the efforts of some lawmakers and activists and it appears unlikely that will change in the final stretch of budget negotiations. While more than a dozen proposals could theoretically be included in another budget bill, it appears that Cuomo has the upper hand in keeping tax increases (even on the wealthy) out of the state budget. You could if you had a governor who is willing, Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger said early Sunday morning of efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Some lawmakers have pushed in recent months to make the wealthy pay more in a variety of ways including higher income taxes and new levies on things like stock transfers and luxury yachts. Cuomo has supported past proposals to raises taxes on the wealthy (like a proposed tax on pied--terre apartments), so it is possible that he could be won over. However, legislators would likely have to own the political consequences in order to assess new taxes, in an election year no less. Heastie has said since December that he wants some revenue raisers Cuomo has said the opposite. Senate Democrats, however, appear to be warming to the idea, given the economic situation. I've said that this certainly is not my first priority, Stewart-Cousins said in mid-March. But we want to consider revenues for wherever we can. But Cuomo has been pushing back against the idea of raising taxes all year long, and it appears he will have his way on the matter in the state budget.

Drastic cuts to school aid appear to have been averted, thanks to additional money from the federal government, the aid to localities bill shows. Although the state is set to cut just shy of $400 million from school funding, the feds have chipped in an additional $1.3 billion. So the updated budget language actually represents about a $928 million increase in spending compared to Cuomors executive budget. Its also about $1.4 billion more in total funding since last years enacted budget. That spending comes with the caveat that the state budget director may withhold any appropriations if the budget becomes unbalanced throughout the year due to economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

State lawmakers had big ambitions at the end of last year when he came to education funding. Democratic members of the Assembly and the state Senate were hoping to increase the amount of Foundation Aid the primary state funding mechanism for public schools as part of a long-running feud with the governor over the meaning of a landmark 2006 legal settlement on education funding. Meanwhile, Cuomo was aiming to make his own mark on public education by changing how the state allocates money in a way that would supposedly end the longtime shares agreement that meant that New York City and Long Island always received a fixed share of total state education funding. As of Monday afternoon, it appeared that lawmakers were pushing for a freeze in the level of education funding in light of Cuomos warning of drastic cuts, which is may be the best they can hope for given the political and economic circumstances.

Long before coronavirus, the state had a multibillion-dollar funding shortfall to deal with thanks to the state Medicaid program. Cuomos proposed solution was to appoint a Medicaid Redesign Team (somewhat stacked with political allies) to figure out the details of finding $2.5 billion in savings. Cuomo now wants to stick with the findings of the MRT, which were released on March 19, even though that would mean forgoing more than $6.7 billion in federal aid that is contingent on states refraining from changing their Medicaid programs. Lawmakers and activists have criticized the MRT recommendations and the idea of cutting aid to hospitals during the ongoing pandemic. But the limited time means that the recommendations are the basis of negotiations, with lawmakers aiming to either accept, reject or modify them, according to Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried.

After last years legislation ending cash bail for many defendents drew criticism from law enforcement officials and conservatives, the governor has insisted on amending it in this years state budget. This week City & State obtained copy of a draft proposal dated March 19 but still in play as the final budget details were being hammered out this week that would allow judges to impose the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure the principals return to court or prevent the principal from committing a crime involving serious physical injury to another person based on the facts of the instant case." That provision appears to be in line with what moderate Democrats are pushing for in the state Senate.

However, the final details of the proposal remain up in the air. Cuomo says that he has a conceptual agreement with the legislative leaders, but Heastie who has opposed changes to bail reform for months still has to sell his members on the idea. Stewart-Cousins has defended a proposal floated by Democratic state senators in February by noting that it would completely eliminate cash bail, a talking point that the final legislative language may not substantiate. As of Wednesday afternoon, it remained to be seen whether lawmakers would expand the authority that judges have to remand criminal defendants pretrial based on their perceived dangerousness, or simply expand the kinds of offenses in which cash bail can be used.

In recent days, an unlikely alliance has emerged between the political left and right when it comes to keeping changes to newly-implemented criminal justice reforms out of the state budget. Lawmakers and activists on the political left do not want any changes to new limits on cash bail, which was eliminated for many defendants, and new discovery legislation that requires prosecutors to turn over evidence more quickly. On the other side of the political spectrum, lawmakers and their allies in law enforcement want to reverse the reforms just not while they are dealing with a state budget during a public health emergency. Heastie has been the biggest roadblock to changing the reforms, especially given his longtime antipathy to passing non-fiscal policy proposals within the state budget process.

Updated legislative language to a past proposal by the governor would require the Manhattan district attorney to turn over $40 million each year from state-sanctioned deferred prosecution agreements. That money would be used to create a state fund to help district attorneys implement the new discovery law that requires prosecutors to turn over within 15 days the evidence they have against criminal defendants.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it appears that recreational marijuana will not be legalized in the state budget. Too much, too little time,'' Cuomo said at a morning press conference, echoing similar comments from key lawmakers. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and state Sen. Liz Krueger have also said that a deal cannot be reached by the budget deadline.

A new version of the revenue bill, which originally included the recreational marijuana proposal, no longer includes pot. The proposal had been laid out in Part BB of that bill, but in the version introduced on Tuesday, Part BB has been intentionally omitted, underscoring the likely fact that marijuana is out of the budget for good.

The main sticking point in recent weeks on the issue between Cuomo and lawmakers has been what to do with the money. Peoples-Stokes and Krueger have sponsored legislation that would require that a certain percentage of future revenues be used to spur economic activity in communities, overwhelmingly populated by people of color, that were most affected by the war on drugs. Cuomo has wanted fewer constraints on how that money would be spent.

A $3 billion environmental bond fund for flood mitigation and wildland restoration efforts a headline issue for Cuomo at his January State of the State address was included in new budget legislation submitted Wednesday afternoon. The bond act appears to have wide support, especially since it does not add to the states bottom line, and would go before voters in November if it is included in the budget. Polystyrene foam, a styrofoam-like substance used in packing and food containers, would also be banned in most circumstances per a provision in the new bill. There is also provisions within the bill that would ban hydrofracking and streamline the process of siting renewable energy projects or, as opponents argue, limit the ways that local communities can block renewable energy projects.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic sponsors of the overwhelmingly popular legislation last session to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters in New York saw a disappointing end to 2019, with Cuomos veto of their bill. But alas, the governor just had to put his own spin on the legislation before endorsing the legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters. Cuomos budget proposal for legalizing the devices, which added a helmet requirement, was endorsed by Ramos and Rozic, signaling early consensus on the issue in January. New legislative language submitted Wednesday includes the provision legalizing e-bikes across the state, but allowing localities to set their own rules for operation,will be included in the final state budget.

Since last spring, the question of how gig workers like Postmates delivery cyclists and Lyft drivers should be classified has been gaining momentum in Albany a debate that picked up speed in the fall, when California enacted a controversial law that changes most gig workers classification from independent contractors to employees. Despite one observer claiming that gig workers could be the most important issue in Albany this year, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown that debate off course. City & State broke the news last week that legislation to propose changes to how gig workers are classified or to grant them new labor protections wont be included in the state budget this year, in large part because of the focus on coronavirus.

Cuomos budget proposal on this issue would have created a task force to study how to treat and classify gig workers, and then authorize the state Department of Labor to introduce its own policies if that task force failed to make recommendations by May. But for now, that proposal and other legislation aimed at the gig economy are on the backburner.

The proposed legalization of paid gestational surrogacy affects relatively few people, but it has personal significance for some of the top people in state politics. Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa has related the proposal to her own experience with fertility treatments. Cuomo has touted the issue as a matter of civil rights issues for the LGBTQ community. But state Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein have qualms with the idea of someone paying a young, low-income woman to bear a child with another womans egg. State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the most high-profile lawmaker on the issue, has had two daughters with his husband through out-of-state surrogates. The politics are tricky indeed.

If the budget does legalize paid surrogacy (a similar proposal passed the state Senate last year) a key thing to watch is whether the final legislative language allows surrogates to have a waiting period to decide whether to contest parental rights. That was a key part of a so-called compromise bill that Krueger has proposed. Both Hoylman and the Cuomo administration called that a poison pill. One side will have to give on this or else paid gestational surrogacy will prove too difficult after all.

The governor wants to expand Penn Station over a whole city block. There is just one little problem the state does not own the land. So Cuomo had a provision put into his budget proposal that will allow him to seize that land through eminent domain.

In response to the anti-Semitic machete attack in Westchester County at the end of last year, Cuomo included a provision in his executive budget that would categorize some hate crimes as domestic terrorism. In a recent press conference, Cuomo suggested that the proposal was one of the budgetary sticking points between himself and state legislative leaders. In an updated version of the Public Protection and General Government bill, where that proposal was included, the provision has been renamed the Josef Neumann Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act. The name honors Rabbi Josef Neumann, a victim of the stabbing attack who succumbed to his injuries and died on Sunday.

The governor appears to be leaning on public authorities, which are quasi-governmental agencies that can borrow money while keeping the debt off the states official books. Sources told The Buffalo News that the governor is looking for a $3 billion line of credit from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and the Urban Development Corporation, which could be used to fund the states general operations.

Public authorities are effectively under the control of the governor who appoints their leaders, and Cuomo was leaning on them to help him get things done despite the budget deficit long before COVID-19 hit New York. There is that $300 million idea to have the New York Power Authority redevelop the Erie Canal. The Olympic Regional Development Authority is pursuing a $14 million project to rebuild a ski lodge in the North Country. Cuomos plans to promote electric vehicles and other green initiatives depend on the New York Energy Research and Development Agency and other agencies. A proposal to expand Penn Station (more on that below) includes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Public authorities have their own ways of raising money, such as through fees and bonds, so it is entirely plausible that Cuomo and lawmakers alike will look for additional ways to take full advantage of them. A proposed merger of the Bridge Authority into the New York State Thruway Authority was not included in an updated budget bill.

Cuomo has said he wanted the authority to adjust the budget in a rolling fashion throughout the year. The updated Aid to Localities budget bill includes language that authorizes the state budget director to make those changes if new revenue estimates make the budget unbalanced. The reassessments will take place at three points during 2020 the first Measurement Period runs April 1-April 30, the next May 1-June 30 and the final from July 1-Dec. 31. If at any point the budget falls out of balance, the state budget director will be able to withhold all some of the amounts appropriated to localities within the bill. That includes school funding and the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities program. The bill language gives the state Legislature 10 days to respond to cuts from the executive branch. It also includes a provision that localities receiving direct federal aid for the coronavirus pandemic may need to submit a spending plan to the state before using that money.

After a state judge rejected the recommendations of a commission regarding public financing and other changes to election law, finding that the commission itself was unconstitutional, Cuomo wants to include the proposed changes as part of the state budget. Language doing so has been included in the transportation, economic development and environmental conservation bill. It sets aside $100 million for the public financing of state elections through matching funds and sets the limits on how much public money a candidate can receive. Gubernatorial and statewide candidates could receive $3.5 million, state Senate candidates could receive$375,000 and Assembly candidates could receive $175,000. Each amount can be received once during the primary election, and again during the general election. In addition to the public financinglimits, the bill would also change the requirements for a third party to gain ballot access, making it more difficult for parties like the Working Families Party to maintain their status.

The latest budget legislation omits Cuomos past proposal to reduce the corporate franchise tax rate for small businesses does not have a proposal requiring lawmakers and other public officials to release tax returns and does not include a proposal to expand alcohol sales at movie theaters but there is legislative language extending the state film tax credit through 2025 with new minimum spending levels as well as language expanding sports betting, but only at additional locations inside casinos barring people who committed certain misdemeanors outside the state from purchasing firearms in New York giving the governor the discretion to close additional upstate prisons and requiring manual recounts in close elections. A proposed ban on repeat sex offenders in public transit was omitted from new budget legislation but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would have new authority to issue bonds and borrow money to offset lost revenue due to the pandemic.

With additional reporting by Rebecca C. Lewis and Annie McDonough.

More here:
Where things stand with the New York state budget - City & State

Related Post

Comments are closed.