Gun control, transparency over school funding and housing matters were among issues still being negotiated Wednesday in Albany as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers tried once again to close down a new state budget in advance of a self-imposed Friday deadline as religious holidays loom.
The governor, in a play tried before, dangled the prospects of a pay raise for legislators – if they pass the budget on time before the March 31 deadline.
Cuomo confirmed that talks in recent days have seen the inclusion of a provision creating a commission to look at – and recommend – new salary levels for lawmakers as well as agency commissioners and other top administration officials.
Cuomo said he “desperately” needs to get pay levels raised for certain posts in his executive branch “to remain competitive.”
A similar-sounding commission in 2016 killed – with help from Cuomo’s appointees to the panel – a recommended pay raise for lawmakers, who have not seen a raise in their $79,500 base rate since 1999.
Governors for years have dangled pay raises as bait to try to get their pet policy or fiscal plans through a reluctant Legislature. In 1999, for instance, then-Gov. George Pataki enticed Assembly Democrats to go along with legalization of charter schools in return for a pay hike.
Lawmakers said talks were still ongoing over several issues, including plans to force people convicted of domestic violence crimes to surrender any weapons they possess, expanded school safety provisions in the wake of the Parkland and other school shootings, and a push by Cuomo to require public disclosure of funding details about each school within a school district.
Cuomo, meanwhile, has come under mounting pressure from mainline Senate Democrats – who are in the minority but are making another play to wrestle control from the GOP – for not including their leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in negotiations over a plan to bolster workplace sexual harassment laws. Final decisions on key issues such as that one are being negotiated by Cuomo, the leader of the Assembly and two Senate leaders – all male.
Cuomo said Senate Democrats have a representative on a “working group” of staffers who have been part of the negotiations over a sexual harassment measure. But Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins and the mainline group of Senate Democrats, said Cuomo’s claim is not accurate.
“Like previous years, we were briefed by the governor’s office, but did not take part in any working group meetings or negotiations,’’ Murphy said.
Sources for several days have said the sexual harassment provisions – including ending secret settlements or forcing victims to sign nondisclosure agreements – were all but certain to be contained in a final budget deal.
“There are a number of very complicated issues that we’re dealing … I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll have an agreement on time,’’ Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon in what has been a rare appearance before the Albany press corps.
He did so after a bizarre incident in which a New York Daily News reporter was arrested for using his cellphone in a prohibited area outside the Senate chamber and Cuomo went to a nearby State Police station to spring him. No charges were brought in the incident.
The episode made for a second straight day of bizarre distractions from a town otherwise fixated – given the hallways packed with lobbyists and their clients – with the future $170 billion budget. On Tuesday, Albany was treated to reports of a coyote found on a terrace at the state museum overlooking the state Capitol.
“There’s nothing new,’’ Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said Wednesday evening after a two-minute, closed-door meeting with his fellow Democrats.
The deadline for passage may be March 31, but lawmakers have considered the real deadline to be by about midday Friday. A number of lawmakers have made clear to legislative leaders that’s about the time they will be leaving to get home for the start of Passover or Good Friday.
In the morning, there was optimism that the budget passage machinery would kick into gear sometime later in the day. Word spread that the Assembly had placed a large order of dinner – Italian-American fare – to feed 150 lawmakers and several hundred staff. By late afternoon, there were some carrot sticks, cheese and crackers and other snacks – a sign that Thursday night could be a long session that could go well into Friday morning.