ALBANY –A capital spending bill was released overnight that provides money for Buffalo's Main Street project, funds for the city to raze abandoned buildings, another $2.3 million annual payment to the Buffalo Bills.
The Assembly plans to go into session sometime today. But the Senate is not signaling when it could return if a final deal is announced. One senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has vowed he will not bring his members back to stand around and wait -- as they mostly did over the past couple weeks -- for budget bills to emerge. Each session costs tens of thousands of dollars in various expenses.
A return date to Albany by the Senate "will not even be discussed until all remaining bills have been printed,'' the lawmaker said. Whether that is sometime next week or two weeks remains to be seen, the lawmaker said.
Another senator, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said this morning that the Senate is likely due back Sunday or Monday -- if deals are made today.
As of 9a.m. Friday, however, the most controversial bill -- called either the "Revenue bill" or the "Big Ugly" -- has not been made public. The measure will, when it gets printed, included some of the most controversial elements of the budget, new taxes and fees, some criminal justice provisions, and the most closely watched of all numbers: state aid to education.
After a series of high-level, secret meetings, it was Democrats in the Assembly who Thursday afternoon began spreading word that a budget deal was within reach.
The Cuomo administration talked of new "compromises" and the Senate was weighing possible scenarios for returning to town.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Thursday said the sides are “headed towards a full budget deal today or tomorrow.’’ He said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is on board with the push to close the budget, and administration officials did not dispute that.
A Senate Republican spokesman said there are talks about a "potential compromise that would bring resolution to the budget" and that senators, who left Albany Wednesday night following a collapse of budget talks, were being consulted via phone.
"While we have had these discussions, there is no final deal,'' cautioned Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
The new optimism comes after budget talks fell apart Wednesday night and the Senate adjourned until there is a complete budget deal.
Several senators were in distant places on vacations. One Republican said it is uncertain when the Senate might return if a real deal truly comes into place.
Heastie kept his members in town, trying one more time to resolve several thorny issues before his members break for the holiday.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,’’ said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, a Queens Democrat.
Another lawmaker said the plan – “unless it falls apart” – is for the Assembly to remain in Albany and start passing budget bills again with a goal to finish the entire budget sometime Friday.
It would be an ambitious timetable, but scheduling miracles do seem to materialize many times around adoption of the state budget.
As seen over the past two weeks, the potential for deals to fall apart has been a near-daily occurrence.
One senator said it could be a "hard sell" to get the Senate back to Albany unless all final components of the budget are agreed to and bills are printed and ready for passage.
Last Friday, many senators went home, only to be called later that evening -- forcing some to turn around on the Thruway after several hours on the road -- for a budget passage session that never happened.
Assembly Democrats on Thursday signed off on one of the most contentious issues, funding for charter schools. Senate Republicans were not saying anything publicly about any such deal.
Cuomo mixed messages
On Wednesday night, Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, snapped that Cuomo all week has tossed new and last-minute demands onto the negotiating table that made it difficult to resolve the fiscal differences.
The governor sent mixed public messages. He said he wants a final deal -- but also that it would be better to wait until there is more clarity about federal budget cuts to New York and other states.
Cuomo said Wednesday that he wants the ability to unilaterally re-arrange spending in the budget in the middle of the fiscal year.
But lawmakers said that idea was killed a week ago and that any fiscal problems that arise later in the year can be dealt with in a special Legislature session.
The Assembly Thursday evening was two budget bills behind where the Senate left off. It takes 11 separate bills to pass the full budget.
Assembly members lingered all day at the Capitol as they waited on Heastie to call the house into session. The Assembly went back into session Thursday night to pass at least one of the two "live" budget bills.
“It's shameful what we're doing to our families," one unhappy Democrat said of the way negotiations have dragged on.
Text from the governor
The amount of idle time left some lawmakers with other things to do.
On Thursday, some Assembly members were trying to determine who among their ranks may be what one lawmaker called a "Cuo-mole.'' On Wednesday, according to NY1, Heastie was in a private conference with Democrats when Cuomo texted the Assembly leader and asked him why he was "bad-mouthing" him during the meeting.
The text was specific about an issue Heastie had just discussed behind closed doors with his colleagues, making clear to Democrats that some lawmaker in the room was in contact with Cuomo or his staff.
Sources Thursday said Heastie stopped the meeting, told his colleagues what had just happened and that the "mole,'' as one lawmaker called the unknown lawmaker, was wrong in the information being passed on to Cuomo.
The Legislature earlier this week OK'd an emergency spending bill to keep the government operating until the end of May.
Heastie and Flanagan were in private discussions all Thursday with Cuomo as they tried to close down especially tense fiscal talks.
The state’s fiscal year began last Saturday.
Charter school levels
The possible charter school deal, worth about $100 million, would freeze per-pupil reimbursement levels they now receive in the coming year and then boost their annual percentage tuition reimbursement rate at the same percentage as the rise in state aid for the public school districts in which they are located.
“For myself, who supports both charters and traditional public schools, this is something that is palatable to be,’’ said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat.
A Cuomo administration source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the governor offered up compromises to Heastie and Flanagan on the charter schools as well as an affordable housing plan for New York City and a proposal to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old.
The sides found themselves fighting the past couple days on the criminal justice matter about who would supervise youth’s released from detention centers upon completion of their sentences.
The compromise now floating about Albany waiting for a final deal would leave the decisions up to local experts, such as social workers, to decide on a case-by-case basis, the official said.
Should final deals be made, the Senate was discussing the logistics of when to return.
Some lawmakers are already in other areas of the country on vacation. One was said to be in Israel.
One logistical issue centered around how and when to get annual "school runs" into the hands of lawmakers. The documents showing the district-by-district funding levels are among the most important issues lawmakers care about each year, and a long tradition has it that they are distributed at the precise same moment to Republicans who control the Senate and Democrats in charge of the Assembly. With senators back home or off on vacation, there was talk of arranging a system whereby Assembly Democrats would be handed the runs at the same time that senators are emailed them.
For optimists, that could happen as early as Friday. It all comes with the Albany asterisk: if deals hold together.