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Lawmakers approve $500 million in Buffalo Billion II funding

ALBANY – Bills to extend New York's spending through the end of May include funding for the full Buffalo Billion II.

The $500 million is funded totally in extension measures that will carry the state through to May 31.

As of late Monday, prospects for the timing of a budget's passage remained unclear.

Unable to close a final budget deal, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders on Monday approved a 1,535-page package of emergency measures to keep the state government running until May 31.

The measures appropriate $40 billion in spending, including money already allocated in past budgets but not yet spent, according to the Legislature.

Cuomo’s budget office says the measures include $15.3 billion in spending over the next two months, or $24.6 billion when federal and other special pots of revenue sources are included.

Legislature embraces new Buffalo Billion in budget plans

While some programs are not funded and others are held at the past year's budget level, the extender includes a full year's worth of capital spending projects. Lawmakers said it adds $8.9 billion in debt.

Among the spending items spread throughout the pages of the bills is $400 million for the second phase of the Buffalo Billion economic development program.

Though not clear from reading the legislation, an additional $100 million – bringing the total to $500 million as promised by all sides – is sprinkled in other areas of the bills, officials said.

That's an initiative Cuomo proposed and lawmakers said weeks ago would be funded in the budget.

A new look for the Buffalo Billion

Cuomo in January proposed a $162 billion spending plan.

Since 2000, only three New York budgets have been adopted later than May 31.

Having blown past their deadline for the April 1 fiscal year start, the sides have been stuck on a number of topics, including criminal justice, education and affordable housing.

The Senate passed the two measures Monday afternoon and the Assembly wrapped up a seemingly cathartic debate – in which Cuomo was the target of Republicans and Democrats alike – later in the evening.

It was hours after when state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the two emergency bills must be passed in order to guarantee on-time paychecks for 150,000 state workers on Tuesday.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, came out of a meeting with fellow Democrats and said making a 2 p.m. deadline is “a high mountain to climb.’’ For the Assembly's part, he was correct. The Assembly passed the bills after 7 p.m.

The emergency measures include dozens of pages to let money flow to state agencies for a variety of purposes, including keeping troopers on highways, parks open and money flowing to Medicaid providers, public schools and food stamps.

Zemsky's in the driver's seat for Buffalo Billion, Part II

There are also other spending provisions, such as money for fishing tournament promotions and $768,000 as part of an annual state payment to the Buffalo Bills as part of a deal several years ago to keep the team in Western New York.

Not in the bills are deals tentatively made over the past week or so during budget talks.

All sides have already agreed to legalize ride-hailing transportation services in upstate. Such issues will not be put into law until a complete budget plan is adopted.

Nothing in Albany is over until lawmakers head out of town – and that is not scheduled until Wednesday.

That's when they are set to begin a vacation lasting until April 24. That has led to speculation, or perhaps hope, that there is still plenty of time this week to get resolution on a final budget.

"I'm ready to continue to talk,'' Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday.

"We really want to get it done. We're still here for three more days and we'd like to get it wrapped up before the end of the week,'' he added.

Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat who leads the Independent Democratic Conference, said the two houses had no choice but to go the emergency appropriation route after the sides failed to get a final deal.

He said he hopes "cooler heads will prevail" and that a new budget does not wait until the end of May, when the emergency appropriation authorization period expires.

Ride-hailing in upstate expected sometime this summer

Cuomo sought to blame “ultraconservatives” in Washington late Sunday night for the uncertainty in federal funding that flows to New York.

The state budget has been categorized by the sides as all but done – pending agreement on some controversial measures. They include how to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years old and how to fund an affordable housing program. While the broader public school funding bill was agreed to, the work of providing actual district-by-district funding amounts was not concluded.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, said Cuomo's attempt to blame Washington for Albany's late budget is a stretch and diversion away from questions now being raised about "the functional government that he takes credit for.'' He said governors in New York have much power, if they use it, to get budgets OK'd, but that Cuomo spent too much time instead on "blaming everybody but himself."

The governor released a statement Monday after the emergency bills passed the Assembly and Senate. He has not appeared before reporters since last Tuesday.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said Democrats in the minority were presented with nearly 2,000 pages of documents overnight and Monday morning. “The Old Testament only has 1,900 pages. So we’re asked to read the Bible this morning and vote on it,’’ he said.

The bills were made public only an hour or so before voting was first taken up in the Senate.

Cuomo Sunday night said the long extension period will help give the state some clarity about federal aid to New York from Washington. In past years of late budgets, governors would often send emergency measures that would expire in two weeks as a way to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to cut a fiscal deal.

The two-month delay threatens to cause planning nightmares for nearly 700 school districts across the state. School boards must have their budget plans for the upcoming school year adopted before April 24 and then put those plans before voters on May 16.

The last time the budget was this late, districts also did not have to live under a property tax cap program, which now limits their ability to rely on local taxpayers and makes state aid levels even more important.

That means, according to Robert Lowry, deputy director at the New York State Council of School Superintendents, schools are going to have to plan their budgets in the dark if the final state budget adoption is delayed until May 31. For districts that get most of their funding from the state, it will mean, he said, some school officials will have to cut programs or staff because they will be forced to plan conservatively in what they might get from Albany if a state budget goes unresolved until May 31.

Other districts could be pushed, he said, to raise property taxes higher than they otherwise might, though because of voter approval rules, such a route will be difficult for many districts. “The most likely approach will be to cut programs,’’ Lowry said if the state uncertainty does not end soon.

The emergency budget measures include new or renewed appropriations for various projects, including Peace Bridge capital work and $15 million for unspecified "revitalization efforts" in Buffalo.

Anger at Cuomo was evident during the bills’ debate in the Assembly. Lawmakers in both parties criticized the governor for insisting on the two-month extension period instead of something more short-term. One said he was acting punitively against lawmakers, whose pay is suspended, by law, until a final state budget is approved.

“He ran his mouth for months about the dysfunction in Washington and this guy can’t get a budget on time,’’ said Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin, a Rensselaer County Republican. He accused Cuomo of engaging in "thug nonsense" in the budget process.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, a Jamestown-area Republican, noted that the extender includes the flow of state money to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca – but only if the Seneca Nation reverses its recent decision to stop making more than $100 million in annual casino revenue-sharing payments to the state.

If there was hand-wringing over the late budget, Cuomo’s office was not showing it, as officials put a good news spin on the emergency bills by releasing what it called “extender investment highlights.”

Cuomo's statement said it included “historic” spending, such as $2.5 billion for water infrastructure projects, $100 million in highway funds and $150 million in capital spending for economic development programs.

"But make no mistake. We are far from done,'' Cuomo said, of the unfinished state budget.

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