Lawmaker Pay Raise, Casino Bailout Emerge In Budget Talks
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A surcharge on Uber and taxi rides in Manhattan, a tax on opioid manufacturers and a new sexual harassment policy were all up for consideration Wednesday as New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo work to pass a new state budget before a key Sunday deadline.
Details of a possible budget deal began to emerge after days of backroom negotiations between the Democratic governor and top lawmakers from the Assembly and Senate.
Several high-profile proposals appear to losing momentum, including Cuomo's call to allow advance voting and the Child Victims Act, a measure that would extend the statute of limitations on child molestation and allow victims to sue over decades-old abuse allegations. But budget deals in Albany have a way of changing, often overnight, as state leaders try to piece together the legislative coalition needed to pass a spending plan.
"We don't have a total agreement," Cuomo told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "Until you have a total agreement anything is possible."
Cuomo himself shot down a move to include a bailout for a struggling upstate New York casino. Revenues for del Lago Resort and Casino have fallen short of expectations a year after the casino opened in the Finger Lakes. The financial troubles prompted talk about lowering the state's share of the facility's revenue, but Cuomo said he doesn't want to "get into the business of bailing out private concerns."
Legislative pay emerged as another late entry in budget talks. Lawmakers are paid a base salary of $79,500 a year and haven't had a raise since the late 1990s. Under a proposal floated this week, a pay commission would be created to consider a pay raise. A similar panel considered and then rejected the idea in 2016.
Cuomo had initially proposed $1 billion in new taxes and fees including a 2-cent per-per-milligram tax on opioid manufacturers. Most of the proposed taxes and fees are now off the table, according to Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco of Glenville. The opioid tax remains a possibility, though it also has run into opposition among Republican lawmakers who worry the tax will be passed on to consumers, or that it won't be dedicated to fighting addiction as Cuomo has said.
"We don't need any new taxes in this state," Tedisco said.
Lawmakers say they expect to include in the budget a new state sexual harassment policy to replace the patchwork of policies now covering state and local government employees.
On tolls, there's tentative agreement on a plan to impose surcharges of $2.50 on cab rides south of 96th Street in Manhattan. Trips with Uber, Lyft or other ride-hailing services in the same zone would be assessed a $2.75 surcharge. Supporters see the surcharges as just the first phase of a plan to roll out new congestion tolls on private vehicles in future years.
Sunday is the start of a new state fiscal year and the deadline for a new budget. But lawmakers want to pass a budget in time for the Jewish Passover, which begins Friday at sunset, or Christian Easter, which is Sunday.
Several progressive groups held a rally Wednesday in a last-minute push to get their priorities included in the budget. They include advance voting, the Child Victims Act and Cuomo's proposal to eliminate cash bail in low-level criminal cases.
"We were all left out of this budget," said Charles Khan of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.
The budget is expected to total around $170 billion.