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Cuomo predicts legal pot won't be part of the budget, but luxury apartment tax will be

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, speaks at a news conference Monday about the state budget. At left is budget director Robert Mujica. At right is former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.


With three weeks to go until the April 1 budget deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is drawing some lines in the sand on items that he said must be in the spending plan, like a permanent property tax cap.

But Cuomo said a proposal to legalize the adult use of marijuana likely will not be finished in time.

On the day that both houses of the Legislature were set to release their own budget proposals, Cuomo laid out a long list of requirements that he needs in the budget for him to agree to the final spending plan. He said time is short, and budget talks are not going well right now.

“I think we are in trouble on the whole enterprise,” Cuomo said. “Look at how much we have to do.”

The governor said the deficit has grown to $3.8 billion in what he calls an “unstable economy.” He said in New York, it’s even more volatile because of the federal tax code changes that limit the deductibility of state and local taxes. 

Cuomo’s requirements include making the temporary 2 percent per year property tax cap permanent, and helping pay for mass transit, with a congestion pricing program for parts of Manhattan. The governor said the Legislature has agreed to impose a new pied-a-terre tax on luxury apartments that are not primary residences, which he estimates could bring in $9 billion a year to help fix the subways and fund other transit projects.

"There is a wide divide on marijuana. I believe, ultimately, we can get there. And we must get there. I don't believe we get there in two weeks."

But the governor said legalizing the adult use of marijuana is off the table in the budget.

“There is a wide divide on marijuana,” Cuomo said. “I believe, ultimately, we can get there. And we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he wants more time to craft a comprehensive system to legally produce, distribute and sell cannabis in New York. There also are competing proposals for where the revenues from sales should go. Some back using the money to help fix the subways, others want reparations for people in neighborhoods adversely affected by the marijuana prohibition.

Cuomo said there’s also been some pushback, including from the PTA, which wants to ensure that children don’t get easy access to the drug. 

The governor said he has not given up, though, on including criminal justice reforms in the budget.


"I'm not going to go through this year and not have criminal justice reform."

He said proposals to end cash bail and change the discovery laws to give defendants earlier access to the prosecution’s evidence against them are running into opposition from the state’s district attorneys and sheriffs. He said he hopes the pressure of the budget deadline can help forge a compromise faster.

“I’m not going to go through this year and not have criminal justice reform,” Cuomo said. “That is not going to happen.”

Cuomo said he’ll meet personally with individual legislators to help reach a deal.

The governor said he also wants to include a system for public campaign financing in the budget, but he will accept a partial plan with an agreement to work out the details later.

Advocates for public campaign financing immediately objected. They said Cuomo has already proposed a workable plan, and the Legislature should adopt it.

Jessica Wisneski is with the reform group Citizen Action. She said Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives under Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted to enact a public campaign finance system for federal elections as part of the H.R. 1 legislation. And she said New York Democrats should do the same.

“It was Nancy Pelosi’s first major thing that they did in the new House,” Wisneski said.

She said the public is demanding an end to politicians’ reliance on big-money donors, “and they are expecting it out of Albany, too.”

With all of the unfinished items in the budget and uncertainty over the state’s revenues, Cuomo floated the possibility of not finishing the budget on April 1. He said they could instead wait until after all of the state’s tax returns come in in the middle of next month. The governor said that way, he and the Legislature would have a truer picture of the state’s actual finances.

But he said there’s an obstacle. A new rule makes planned pay raises for lawmakers contingent on an on-time budget. The governor said he and his budget staff are looking at potential ways to get around that.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.