NYS Lawmakers Say They are Still on Track to Finish the Budget by the April 1 Deadline

Mar 25, 2020

Tulips will soon be blooming in front of the state capitol building.
Credit file photo

Amid the COVID-19 news, it's almost easy to forget that the state budget is due in just one week.  State lawmakers say despite the corona virus outbreak, they intend to meet the deadline, and will use precautions to avoid meeting in large groups.  They face a daunting task of putting together a spending plan while a multi billion dollar deficit grows each day.

The New York State Comptroller said on March 17  that the state’s $6 billion dollar deficit could grow by $4 to $7 billion. Now, even those number appear outdated. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that deficit could rise to $15 billion, as the stock market tanks and the economy is at a standstill. 

Despite the challenges, Cuomo is confident a spending plan can be in place by April 1, and it can even have some of the other unrelated items it that Cuomo has proposed. They include legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana, rolling back some of the bail reform changes that ended most forms of cash bail on January 1, and banning flavored vaping products.

We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed,” Cuomo said on March 23. “We’re going to pursue all of them.”

Cuomo is also seeking greater powers in the budget to move money around later in the year, as the state’s true financial picture become clearer. His budget director, Robert Mujica,  says the budget office might need to hold payments back at times, or change or increase health care payments as the year goes on.

You’ll have to do a budget that has flexibility,” Mujica said.

David Friedfel, with the fiscal watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, says giving the Governor new powers in the budget would set a bad precedent. He says it’s better to have the legislature come back later in the year, when hopefully it will be safe to meet again, and consider the changes.

They should come back in three months, six months, whenever is necessary in order to amend the budget,” Friedfel said. “It’s better to do that than to set up a system where the executive would enshrine themselves with additional power.”

Some, including the Republican minority party leaders in both houses of the legislature, say lawmakers should do a bare bones budget that sticks to spending related items. They say there’s time to do other policy items later in the year, when hopefully it will be safe for the full legislature to meet again and to once again allow lobbyists and interest groups into the Capitol. The building is currently closed to visitors.

Friedfel agrees.

Later on when things return to normal, then you could come back and address those important policy issues,” he said.

The Senate and Assembly have not held session for over a week. When they met briefly on March 18th  to approve paid  sick leave for quarantined workers, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the entire spending plan has to be revaluated.

Every single assumption that we had has got to be challenged,” Stewart –Cousins said. “And has got to be adjusted for the realities that we are in.”

Progressive groups and some Democratic lawmakers want to raise taxes on the wealthy to help balance the budget. Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins is against that idea.  Stewart-Cousins represents parts of Westchester County and several members of her democratic conference are from Long Island, where combined state and locals taxes already highest in the nation.

I don’t know how we tax our way, frankly, out of this,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins says federal help is needed.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agrees that New York is not going to be able to manage on its own.

“If we don’t do something that continues circulation of money into the national economy and here in New York State, we are going to be headed for maybe not even a recession but a total depression.”

Governor Cuomo is not pleased with  federal bail efforts so far , and he says the bill passed by Congress Wednesday is not enough, and would only give New York $3.8 billion for its budget.

How do you plug a $15 hole with $3.8 billion?” Cuomo asked. “You don’t.”

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who is also Minority Leader, has a widely different estimate of the benefits for the state. He says New Yorkers will get $40 billion from the aid package, when the $1,200 checks for each adult and small business aid, and extended unemployment is factored in. Schumer says billions of dollars will immediately flow to New York’s hospitals.

Cuomo’s press secretary, Dani Lever, said in a statement that , “as a percent of our total state budget -- 1.9% -- it is the second lowest amount in the nation.  Literally 48 states get a higher percentage in funding than New York State.  For example, South Dakota gets 17.9%”.