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Cuomo, lawmakers fail to get state budget done on time

ALBANY – New York’s budget is late again.

Sharp splits all Friday over criminal justice and education funding issues kept anyone from predicting precisely when a new fiscal plan will meet final approval.

For Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has heralded his ability to bring discipline to Albany with on-time or near on-time budgets, the especially foggy situation on Friday night appeared to be an illustration that his once-powerful hold over the Legislature now has its limits.

The point was hammered home at 4 p.m. Friday. Then, the Senate – which only an hour earlier had talked of pulling an all-nighter into the next day to complete a budget – gaveled out of session and said it would return at some unknown date when unresolved issues are hammered out.

That could be Saturday, Sunday, Monday. No one knew for sure.

The most available commodity in Albany Friday was confusion.

A couple hours after senators adjourned, there was speculation of a late-night session with senators being called back to Albany.

But, two hours after leaving, Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican, was heading west in his car, had reached Syracuse and no one had told him to turn the car around.

Another Senate Republican told reporters that senators were being told to report back to Albany at 8 p.m. -- but then, a few minutes later, told other reporters that such a claim was a mere rumor.

Shortly before 9 p.m., some senators began filing back into a corner conference room to begin another waiting game. Ranzenhofer, having turned his car around, was back, too.

Talk spread of the sides making an "announcement" of a budget deal and perhaps a late-night passage of one of the least controversial budget measures -- the "state ops" bill that funds basic state agency functions, including payrolls. Lawmakers went down to Cuomo's office; Cuomo aides went up to meet with senators.

Then even what one lawmaker called the "optics bill" -- the measure to fund state agencies -- late Friday night was put off for passage until at least sometime Saturday afternoon.

Either way, the budget at midnight became late for the third straight year.

Unlike budgets just hours late like 2015 and 2016, this is already destined -- given the logistics -- to be the latest state budget since 2010.

“Chaos reigns,’’ said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

A couple of minutes after the new fiscal year began at midnight, Cuomo issued a statement saying he is giving lawmakers a "grace period" to enact the budget this weekend. If not completed, he said he will advance an emergency bill to keep the government running at 2016 levels.

Cuomo said such a route would also permit the state to "adjust to future federal changes" that are expected to reduce the level of federal funding to New York at some point in the coming year.

None of the nine major bills that enact various spending, taxing and policy areas of the budget were even printed Friday night. A couple of the bills were said to be all effectively complete, but that the trust level was so low Friday that neither house would introduce them until all the unrelated thorny issues had been resolved.

One of the budget bills -- permitting the state to pay its ever-rising debt load – was previously passed by both houses earlier in February.

A dispute over whether to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years of age was again at the center of the budget delay on Friday.

Under understandings preliminarily reached, crimes committed by 16 and 17 year olds, such as murder, will still go through the regular criminal court system. But the Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans have been divided over the definition of some violent felonies. For instance, a house burglary would be considered nonviolent, but there were disagreements over, for instance, the adjudication procedure for a 16-year old who punches a homeowner while fleeing the scene of a robbery.

The Assembly had, until Friday, made the age issue its line in the sand.

“The details have not been worked out. Will they? I don’t know? Will it be a part of the budget? I don’t know,’’ Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, said of the matter.

“I don’t think we’re in any different place than we were a couple days ago,’’ he said of the closed-door talks. But by a couple hours after sundown Friday, Gallivan was back behind closed doors meeting on the issue with Cuomo and other senators.

For the Senate, steering more state money to charter schools has been among its must-have issues.

That has created a serious spat with Assembly Democrats, who are more closely aligned with the big state teachers union that wants additional money going to traditional public schools. While the Senate Republicans, as a whole, have few charter schools in their districts, backers of the charter school movement have been reliable campaign contributors to their side; the teachers union, meanwhile, worked actively last fall to try to oust the Republicans from power in the Senate.

The move by Flanagan to abruptly gavel out of session was a throwback to former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who infuriated governors when he would send or threaten to send his colleagues home during disputes.

On Friday, it was Flanagan’s turn to anger a governor, as he sought to send a signal that senators were tired of the all-week wait for deals that kept lawmakers in the dark about timing for even the printing of bills.

Legislative leaders cast little light on the situation. The first question to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie when he appeared briefly before the press Friday night was: “What can you tell us?”

His response: “Nothing.”

After a long meeting with Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan told reporters that “I know you are all insanely jealous that I get to spend a Friday evening hanging out with the governor.’’

As for whether he was calling his fellow senators back to the Capitol, Flanagan would not say. “I said we would reconvene at the call of the leader. I may end up telling you that we are,’’ said Flanagan of himself, the leader.

Flanagan and Heastie were far apart in their public explanations of the talks over the age matter. Flanagan described it as a difference over “two words,’’ while Heastie was not answering whether the whole issue might get dropped from the budget because of a failure to reach a deal.

The government does not shut down without a budget in place.

The state operations bill, likely to be passed sometime Saturday, will fund agencies and, if disputes are not resolved, the houses can pass a short-term "extender" for other government functions, such as funding non-profits that provide a range of state health care and other services.

The final budget will include legalization of ride-hailing services upstate, a $2.5 billion clean water infrastructure borrowing program, and a combination of tuition breaks and tuition hikes for state university students depending on their family incomes.

At about 11 p.m., an hour before the fiscal year start, Flanagan said he expects the Senate to return to session Saturday to take up budget bills.

"These are really complicated issues and we are still having discussions,'' Flanagan said, adding that he believes most major issues have been resolved. He gave few details, such as how one of the biggest areas of the budget -- state aid to public schools -- will be divvied up across the districts.

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