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State lawmakers adjourn for a long weekend as budget deadline is missed

New York State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins speaks with the press in Albany Thursday, March 31, 2022
Dan Clark
New York Now
New York State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins speaks with the press in Albany Thursday, March 31, 2022

Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers gave up on the chance of meeting the state’s budget deadline when final agreements on the spending plan and related items failed to emerge in time.

The Senate and Assembly adjourned until Monday, when they say they will try again to reach an accord.

The next hard deadline for the budget to be in place is Monday afternoon. That’s when the state comptroller needs to process payroll for 62,000 employees who work at state-run hospitals, prisons and other institutional settings.

In a memo to state agencies, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli warned that if the budget is not completed by 4 p.m., it will delay the direct depositing of checks for the April 7 payday.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she’s hopeful the budget can be in place by then.

“We’re going to have a timely budget,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Because we are making progress.”

The biggest sticking point has been whether to include revisions to bail reform in the budget and make other changes to the landmark 2019 criminal justice reform laws.

Hochul, under pressure from political opponents who have accused her of being soft on crime, outlined 10 changes that she would like to make. They include adding more gun-related crimes to the list of felonies that would once again be bail-eligible, making it easier to mandate that a mentally ill person be hospitalized or receive outpatient treatment, and adding more money for mental health services.

Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who championed the laws, have been resistant to making changes, saying there is no hard data linking the reforms to rising crime rates across the state. But the Senate leader said the Legislature is likely to adopt some of Hochul’s suggested changes.

“We are trying to deal with making sure that people are safe and that we create a public safely environment,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Without criminalizing poverty.”

The Senate and Assembly did not include unrelated items like bail reform changes to their proposed spending plans. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris blamed disagreements over those unrelated proposals for the late budget.

“The unfortunate part is there has been significant amount of non-budgetary issues thrown into the mix towards the end,” Gianaris said. “And that has slowed us down.”

Gianaris said at least one unrelated item could be off the table until later in the session. Proposed reforms to a tax break for real estate developers who agree to build affordable housing in exchange for development projects, known as 421a, will likely not be part of the budget.

The governor and lawmakers are still talking about restructuring the state’s troubled ethics commission, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE.

Government watchdogs, including Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group, warn that a plan currently under consideration would not be an improvement, because the governor and Legislature would continue to appoint the members.

“It is a structure that is designed to fail," Horner said. “The only way these ethics agencies work is if they’re independent.”

And criticism continues over the deal struck Monday between Hochul and the owners of the Buffalo Bills football team. That agreement would require at least $850 million of state money. Some lawmakers and Hochul’s political opponents said it is too big a giveaway to the wealthy owners of a lucrative sports franchise.

Hochul announced Wednesday that some of the stadium financing will come from gaming-related payments made to the state by the Seneca Nation of Indians as part of a legal settlement. That led the leader of the Seneca Nation to attack the plan as an example of “hostile and shameless greed.”

Proposals including a gas tax holiday and allowing restaurants to serve to-go alcoholic drinks along with takeout food are still on the negotiating table.

Not everyone planned on leaving the Capitol for a long weekend, though.

New Yorkers with disabilities and their allies planned to camp out in a lobby outside the governor’s office to advocate for more pay for home health care aides. A proposal backed in the Legislature would require that home care workers receive at least one and a half times the minimum wage.

 Senator Jessica Ramos speaks to home health care advocates camped outside Governor Hochul's office on March 31, 2022
Karen DeWitt NYS Public Radio
Senator Jessica Ramos speaks to home health care advocates camped outside Governor Hochul's office on March 31, 2022

Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Democrat, was among several lawmakers who spoke.

“I’ve been heartbroken to know that the Assembly and Senate has been sent home,” Ramos said. “We’ve been doing our job; we need the governor to do her job.”

Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, also condemned Hochul and the Democratic legislative leaders for exiting Albany for the weekend without a budget in place. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay called it “embarrassing,” saying in a statement that the Democrats’ “dysfunction has led to needless gridlock.”

Hochul did not appear in public for the sixth day in a row, amid reports that some of her top staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and are working remotely.

A spokeswoman, Hazel Crampton-Hayes, said in a statement that anyone who tested positive is isolating, and that the governor has continued to test negative. She said Hochul is “working around the clock to finalize a budget.”

Hochul, in a statement, said she is continuing to have “productive conversations” with legislative leaders and will “put in the time it takes” to reach an agreement.

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.