In advance of a demonstration that has Capitol security officials worried about keeping legislative proceedings under way, state lawmakers Tuesday evening began pushing through part of the 2011 state budget.
The relatively controversy-free portions of the spending plan approved by the Senate and Assembly involved several agency consolidations, transportation spending and a provision giving Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo authority to create 10 regional councils to advise his administration how to dole out $130 million in economic development grants.
Still unknown is how much individual school districts will receive from a budget that cuts their aid by about $1.3 billion and a final Medicaid spending bill.
"I don't think there's anything there that's going to stop this budget from being completed (today)," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said Tuesday.
State police and legislative security officials were preparing for what advocacy groups promise will be a vocal demonstration at the end of a budget season that has seen a number of protests and several-dozen arrests.
One official said they were told to expect a "Wisconsin-style" protest -- which grabbed headlines in Madison recently -- on Wednesday afternoon by advocates pushing for more spending for schools, public colleges and human services programs.
The "People Power" rally will include members from unions representing state university professors, public school teachers and human services groups, who say the still-to-emerge state budget will hurt everything from classroom programs to health and other services for low-income New Yorkers. Some 300 protesters will attempt to camp out in the Capitol overnight -- though legislative leaders were claiming the budget will have passed by then.
One source involved in organizing the protest said no acts of civil disobedience are planned, but officials at the Capitol were already planning how to ensure disruptions don't stop the budget's passage. Meanwhile, half the Senate's public gallery space was shut down on Tuesday when a metal detector stopped working.
"They're rather upset about the final outcome of the budget, and they will be on hand as budget bills are being passed to register their dissatisfaction," Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a group whose financial backers include unions, said of the protesters.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose chamber's work was briefly stopped by a recent protest by disabled people, said a disruption will not be tolerated.
"We're open to the public and that's always been our tradition, and if there are any people who are here to do things that are inappropriate, the state police manage the whole Capitol area," he said.
The bills approved Tuesday include a shift from a "top down" economic development program by the state to one with a more regional emphasis. Details of how the new program will work won't be known for a couple weeks, when Cuomo outlines them in an executive order.
The Legislature approved $130 million that the 10 councils will compete for in the coming year.
The councils will make recommendations to Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who will head the group, with the funding decisions being made by Cuomo's economic development department. The composition of the councils, as well as the kinds of project ideas sought by Cuomo, will be released with the executive order sometime in mid-April, according to Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman.