Capitol Watch: Clock Ticking On Reaching Budget Agreement
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — There are growing indications that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats in the Legislature may not be able to reach an agreement on the next New York state budget by an April 1 deadline.
The state Assembly and Senate have shown an ability to work fast, starting the session by passing a bevy of measures that had been hung up for years while Republicans controlled the Senate.
That included passing reproductive right legislation and a bill that aimed at helping victims of childhood sexual abuse. Cuomo has already signed several into law.
But coming up with a deal on the budget — the Legislature's most important annual task — may not happen by the end of March, when the current fiscal year expires and the new one begins.
Agreements have yet to be worked out on key issues including criminal justice reforms, something Cuomo insists must be part of the budget.
Here's a look at the logjam:
DIFFERING REVENUE ESTIMATES
Cuomo, now in this third term, proposed a $175 billion spending plan in mid-January. When his budget office and representatives of the Assembly and Senate leadership met to come up with a forecast on how much revenue the state will take in for the next two years, they found themselves hundreds of millions of dollars apart.
Cuomo's forecast was $168.2 billion. The Legislature's figure was $900 million higher. When the governor and Legislature can't agree on a revenue forecast by March 1, the state comptroller is tasked with coming up with a figure. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's revenue forecast was $190 million above Cuomo's.
The various sides are still trying to reach a consensus on how much they can spend.
DECLINING TAX RECEIPTS
Adding to the uncertainty this year is a more than $2 billion decease in state tax receipts so far, something Cuomo mostly blames on changes made to federal tax laws in 2018 and fears of a slowing economy.
"This is unlike any other budget that I've done, where the revenues were coming in and we were strong financially," Cuomo said during an interview with public radio's WAMC earlier this week. "We don't have the money and that's what's going to make this budget challenging."
The dispute over how far revenues might fall could have big implications for what gets put in the budget. Democrats were eager to include new investments in education, housing and health care after they won complete control of the Legislature in last fall's elections.
Cuomo said that while some leaders in Albany may try to inflate budget estimates in order to tackle legislative priorities, he's unwilling to fudge the numbers.
"I'm not going to play games," he said.
The budget could decide the fate of two of Cuomo's top priorities for the year: legalizing recreational marijuana use and imposing new tolls on motorists entering central Manhattan.
Cuomo wants to use the toll revenue and a portion of revenue from marijuana sales to pay for billions of dollars in upgrades to the New York City subway system.
Cuomo warns that if lawmakers don't vote to legalize and tax marijuana they may have to consider other ways to raise money for the subways, including a possible new tax on people who own more than one home.
As for criminal justice reforms, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie supports them and says he's confident the will to get them done is there.
It's one of several priorities he shares with Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins. Both are Democrats.
"There isn't a hold up. We just want to make sure we do it right," she told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. "These things have been wrong for a very, very long time."
Cuomo's budget director, Robert Mujica, said the governor won't agree to a budget that doesn't include a permanent tax cap, bail reform, and New York City transit financing through congestion pricing or fare increases.
"The budget must be complete, if they are not in a rush, neither are we," Mujica said in a statement Thursday. "The Governor agrees getting it right is more important than any deadline."