By MARINA VILLENEUVE, Associated Press
Legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul have yet to reach a deal on a $216 billion-plus state budget, and lawmakers and aides faced a lengthy to-do list as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Legislature held a brief session without voting on budget bills, and lawmakers extended their hotel stays as negotiations dragged six days beyond an initial April 1 deadline. Sen. Joe Angelino, a Republican of central New York, said he planned to find an air mattress for his office just in case.
Negotiators still have to finalize details for seven remaining spending plans — including infrastructure, local aid and education. It takes hours to polish and print out each of those plans, and lawmakers must also be briefed and hold debates.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, said the main sticking points have been disagreements on policies including criminal justice reform. She did not expect negotiations to extend over the weekend, but couldn’t say whether lawmakers might announce a deal or vote Thursday or Friday.
“I would say we are close, closer than yesterday,” Peoples-Stokes said. “But there is a ways to go.”
Lawmakers must pass either the budget or stopgap legislation by 10 a.m. Monday to ensure 82,000 state administrative employees get their paychecks on time, according to state comptroller spokesperson Jennifer Freeman.
Lawmakers have been at odds over potential bail reform and other policies that some want to pass through the budget. A 2019 New York law eliminated cash bail for many nonviolent offenses following outcry over people being held behind bars awaiting trial because they couldn’t afford to pay bail, while wealthier people accused of the same crimes went free.
Some law enforcement officials, as well as Republicans and some Democrats, want New York to reintroduce bail for some offenses, citing a rise in violent crime. But other Democrats and criminal justice advocates have pointed out that there isn’t much evidence that the state’s bail laws have had anything to do with an uptick in violence during the pandemic.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called Hochul’s proposal to allow judges to consider whether a person may be a danger to the public in bail decisions a nonstarter.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said Tuesday that lawmakers have agreed to tweak a New York law that lays out how courts handle discovery in criminal cases.
Another issue that remains unsettled: whether New York should make it easier to allow mental health professionals to seek longer involuntary hospital stays for people with mental illness who might be a danger to themselves or others.
Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat of Queens, and Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from western New York, are sponsoring such legislation and say the existing 72-hour hospitalization period isn’t enough to stabilize patients.
But critics say such proposals violate the constitutional rights of people facing mental distress who fare better with community-based programs.
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services CEO Harvey Rosenthal, said he and others with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence: “We’ve had a couple of high profile incidents and it’s really just unleashed a torrent of lock ’em up, sweep-them-away approaches, and it’s really reprehensible.”
Gov. Hochul proposed a $216.3 billion budget in January, but lawmakers who want to tap into strong tax revenues expect the final amount will be higher.
The public won’t get to see final details — including a potential suspension of the gas tax and increased spending on overdue utility bills and COVID-19 rental relief — until shortly before lawmakers take their final votes.
Lawmakers typically must wait three days before voting on a bill, but the governor can waive that requirement.
Republicans and some Democrats want to see specifics from Hochul’s office about how exactly New York will fund its promised share of $600 million to subsidize a new football stadium in a Buffalo suburb. It’s possible, for example, that Hochul could fund the project without lawmaker approval by diverting casino revenues from the Seneca Nation.
Some Democrats and good government groups have blasted the deal as a corporate giveaway that would enrich Bills’ vendor Delaware North, which employs Hochul’s husband William. Hochul has promised to not use her position to benefit Delaware North, and the company has barred William from working on state issues.