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Lawmakers, Cuomo remain at a standstill on new state budget

ALBANY – With the state budget now the latest since 2010, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers failed, again, to resolve outstanding budget disputes despite claims late Saturday night that there had been a tentative deal on a new $160 billion spending plan.

Shortly before midnight Sunday, Cuomo said he is sending an emergency measure to both houses to keep the state government “fully functioning” until May 31. He said legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate have agreed to pass the “extender” bill by Monday afternoon.

In a written statement, Cuomo said an “ultraconservative Congress” is posing risks to the New York budget planning process and “on individuals’ rights and American values.’’ The governor until last week had said the state budget would not factor in possible federal funding cuts, such as to health care and education programs, because no one could predict what the level of those reductions. On Sunday night, he said that it is now “imperative that the state make especially prudent choices regarding expenditures and does not over promise financial resources.’’

“The looming threats from Washington leave us with two options: Our state budget must either fully anticipate and address our human and financial needs or we must keep working to reach compromise on the reform issues and remain financially cautious so we can adapt to federal actions once they are determined,’’ Cuomo said.

By 8 a.m. Monday, however, the emergency extender bill had not yet been publicly introduced by Cuomo. His administration had said that both houses need to pass the bill by 2 p.m. today.

The attempt to end the annual budget dance has evolved little over the past several days. “It’s the same issues we’ve been talking about for six weeks,’’ Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Sunday night after meeting with Cuomo and two other legislative leaders in the governor’s second-floor Capitol suite.

There was little in the way of transparency to the process again on Sunday. As Heastie hustled up the stairs after the meeting, surrounded by a handful of reporters, the other two leaders, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein, slipped out a side door to avoid the press. For his part, Cuomo has not publicly met with reporters since last Tuesday.

Several budget bills had been drafted into final language, but both houses declined to make them public until all remaining disagreements had been resolved.

Sunday night was the deadline Cuomo set for what he called the “grace period” for lawmakers to strike a budget deal or he would send them some sort of temporary spending bill to keep paychecks flowing to state workers and funds sent to nonprofit agencies that provide a range of social services for the government.

The governor’s comments about a “grace period” did not sit well with lawmakers, who saw the remarks as condescending. In the Assembly, lawmakers derisively dubbed Cuomo “Eminence” on Sunday afternoon after another period of stalled deals.

The on-again, off-again atmosphere was not lost on rank-and-file lawmakers. “I’m not optimistic. I’m not pessimistic. I’m numb,’’ said Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican.

As Heastie remarked, the same issues were keeping the sides from closing down on the budget. There were still disagreements over a plan to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 years old to 18 – and thereby sending most cases to family court instead of criminal court. There were still disputes over some education funding matters, affordable housing spending and even some details about a program for reducing college tuition expenses for some students.

Critics have said the problem is that Cuomo and lawmakers are trying to jam too many non-fiscal issues into the budget, such as the criminal justice plan that will end up stretching some 80 pages or more of one of the budget bills. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat and chairman of the codes committee, said there have been as many as 20 staff lawyers from the Legislature and Cuomo’s office working on the crime bill.

Ride-hailing in upstate expected sometime this summer

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Monroe County Democrat, said putting non-fiscal issues into the budget is a time-honored tradition in Albany because it is a way for the sides to get leverage they might not otherwise have at other points during the six-month legislative session.

“I think there’s certain issues both sides feel strongly about and feel the greatest likelihood of success in achieving those ends is to do it in the budget because it’s obvious we have to do a budget,’’ Morelle said.

“It’s like any negotiation. When you’re having a conversation with your wife about which movie you’re going to see you go back and forth and you hope to arrive at a consensus. That’s really what this is. I don’t mean to trivialize what’s going on here but it’s pretty basic. You have parties with different needs, different wants and who see things slightly differently,’’ the lawmaker added.

The next deadline for meeting state workers’ payroll is Wednesday. Heastie said the sides were still trying to get an overall budget deal and were not actively discussing a temporary “extender” measure. “I don’t know. You have to ask him … You keep asking me what the governor’s plan is. Ask him,’’ Heastie told reporters as he made his way back to his office.

District leaders look for boost for Buffalo schools in state budget

Sunday night, Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans were again meeting behind closed doors to determine strategy and define the parameters of potential compromises.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat who leads the mainline group of Senate Democrats, has not been a part of the closed-door talks between Cuomo, Heastie, Flanagan and Klein. After her own private meeting with Cuomo Sunday night, she said budget deliberations this year “feel a bit dysfunctional.’’

When the Assembly and Senate released their 2017 legislative session calendar in January, the houses marked off Monday through Wednesday this week as session days. Some saw it as a negotiating move intended to send Cuomo a message that budget talks could go late this year, but few would have predicted the governor, in the end, would have been unable to secure at least the framework of a budget deal before the April 1 fiscal year start. Cuomo has sought to display the adoption of on-time or nearly on-time budgets in his first six years as a measure that Albany’s days of dysfunction – witnessed by a state budget not completed in 2010 until August during an especially difficult fiscal year – were over.

Now, it is likely that the budget, assuming deals are made and bills can start passing on Monday, cannot be completed until sometime on Tuesday. On Wednesday, there is another deadline: that’s the last scheduled session day before lawmakers take an 18-day break from Albany.

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