ALBANY – Legislators are back at the Capitol Saturday afternoon hoping to start passing fiscal bills one day after state budget negotiations fell apart, the state's new fiscal year began, and the budget became late.
The props are all set. There are the guards, the food to keep people energized, and electronic vote tally machines turned on. The lobbyists are in their place. Reporters dancing back and forth between the houses.
The only thing missing: any budget bills.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, none of the measures to enact a budget -- thousands of pages outlining how $160 billion will be spent -- have been publicly introduced.
The sides are still split over criminal justice reform issues, a measure to provide tax breaks for New York City developers for low-income housing projects and assorted matters that none of the sides are willing to publicly discuss.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo met this morning in his office with legislative leaders, less than 12 hours after he said he was giving lawmakers a “grace period” to get budget deals this weekend or he would send the Legislature an “extender” bill in order to keep the government running.
Outside the Assembly, lawmakers have been milling about since around 10 a.m. – the time they were told to get back to the Capitol for a private Democratic conference. Lawmakers from around the state said they had no clue what was going on.
Over in the Senate, Republicans were back behind closed doors this afternoon after a strange night Friday in which the GOP adjourned its session and said the 63-member body would not return until there were final deals. Some lawmakers headed home, only to be told to turn their cars around and come back to the Capitol.
But there were no deals Friday night for lawmakers to okay, and neither house can definitively state if a session will be held today.
Asked if he was hopeful for a breakthrough today, Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, was a cautious as any other rank-and-file lawmaker who is awaiting for signals to come from the secret talks between Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein.
“I just don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to characterize it any way because I just don’t have any more information than last night,” he said with a slight pause before adding, “But I will say this. I’m always hopeful. I mean we’re here. We should do our jobs. We should get it done.’’
Long gone from the equation is any notion of aging budget bills, as state law requires, for three days in order to give lawmakers and the public a chance to read the voluminous package of spending and policy plans. Instead, Cuomo will be giving the Legislature a “message of necessity,’’ which will enable them to quickly go into session and pass bills sometimes within an hour or less of being publicly introduced.
One legislative source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cuomo has given legislative leaders three options. One, pass a full budget. Two, pass an emergency “extender” bill in order to keep the government running and able to pay its bills along with some “nominal” other items, which lawmakers assume could be some popular capital spending intended to lure votes from the Legislature. The third “nuclear” option: Cuomo introduces a straight emergency bill that simply extends the 2016-17 budget’s levels. Under that option, the source said, the measure could keep spending going for a year – during which lawmakers would not get paid. [A state statute freezes lawmakers’ pay when a budget is late.
Besides criminal justice and education funding issues, the sides have not publicly presented what might happen with efforts to lower the costs of college tuition for some students based on income levels. Nor was there a final agreement on whether new transparency and oversight will be brought to the state’s economic development program. A federal judge in April is expected to set a trial in the case of eight individuals accused of a pay-to-play scheme involving economic development awards, including the Buffalo Billion’s SolarCity construction project at RiverBend.
Many issues have already been resolved, such as legalizing ride-hailing transportation services in upstate. On Friday, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, said he is “optimistic” the final budget will include new tax cuts for small businesses. The lawmaker, chairman of the Assembly economic development committee, said he expects the final budget to expand the Excelsior Jobs Program to small businesses by lowering, for instance, the number of net new manufacturing jobs a company must create to be eligible for the incentives and from 20 to 10 for agricultural companies.
The present program, he said, is skewed to helping larger companies. “It is a program that has underperformed its potential,’’ he said, in part, because it has not focused on helping smaller companies.