ALBANY — The New York state budget — a nine-figure monster that prescribes more than $150 billion in spending — is due on April 1, which some cynics might note is also April Fools’ Day. More importantly, that date also marks Easter and the second day of Passover, elements that may factor into an on-time or early budget.
But in a possible rush to finish, more contentious social issues, which are often wedged into the spending plan, may be deferred to later in the legislative session, which ends in June.
Here is a quick rundown on some of the issues being discussed as the negotiations enter their final week.
The latest installment of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio came into full flower in recent weeks over the performance of the New York City Housing Authority, which the governor has blasted as incompetent. Cuomo has staged several events to highlight the problems — never without jabs at de Blasio — and has said he will not sign a budget without an additional $250 million to make repairs, to be handled by private contractors.
Tenants’ advocates say that figure is a pittance considering the billion-dollar needs of the city’s housing stock. But Cuomo has been combative, painting himself as a white knight, coming to the rescue of beleaguered NYCHA residents even though the state has no legal obligation to act. Considering the political stakes, and his ultimatum, the money would seem to be a must-have for Cuomo, though de Blasio has objected to the plan, calling the governor’s actions political opportunism.
Cracking down on sexual harassment is that rare Albany unicorn, a priority both parties agree on. Even rarer, they seem to agree on how to make it happen: prohibiting secret settlements, banning forced arbitration, standardizing a definition of harassment for all state employees.
But when it comes to finalizing the details, disagreement prevails as usual. The Senate’s bill defines sexual harassment as “conduct of a sexual nature,” a definition critics call too narrow. The Assembly’s plan requires a neutral arbitrator, while the governor and Senate Republicans want to create an investigative arm within the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, despite critiques that the body lacks independence.
The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida led to a national student movement demanding gun control, but among Albany’s leaders, the response has been a flurry of symbolic action, party division and not a single new law. Republicans who rule the Senate want more security, supporting armed guards in school, but no further gun control; Democrats who rule the Assembly want bans on possessing bump stocks — which accelerate the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons — and think that fewer guns, not more, is the answer.
Cuomo leans heavily toward his fellow Democrats on this issue — he is credited with a 2013 law that banned the sale of so-called “assault weapons” in the state — but may have a tough time convincing Republicans. Still, last week, Cuomo endorsed an idea floated by state Sen. Michael Gianaris to implement a 10-day waiting period for any gun purchase. He has repeatedly called for a bump stock ban, and may have some hope for a bill to bar domestic abusers from having firearms.
The governor’s promises in January to overhaul the state’s tax code and shield New Yorkers from the new federal tax plan raised eyebrows. Academics and tax experts said such complicated proposals — swapping the income tax for a payroll tax, or funneling tax payments through deductible charitable contributions — had never been tried and should not be rushed.
Nearly three months later, those fears may not even play out. The Senate has rejected both the payroll-tax scheme and the charitable-contributions tactic. The Assembly accepted the former but rejected part of the latter.
Cuomo, perhaps cognizant of the political points he may score for fiery rhetoric against the Trump administration, has doubled down on his plans. He has joined with other governors to sue the federal government over the tax plan, and in an appearance on WNYC on Friday, insisted that changing the state’s tax laws was “one of our top priorities.”
Education is the biggest part of the state budget, and it is traditionally the last to be negotiated. This year, Cuomo has proposed increasing school aid by $769 million, or 3 percent. The Assembly countered with an increase almost twice as large, at $1.5 billion. Even the spending-shy Senate proposed a larger increase, of $957 million.
Activists predicted that the state would spend heavily on education in anticipation of this fall’s elections. “No one wants to go into an election year having their school district make cuts,” said Jasmine Gripper, the legislative director for the advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education.
Cuomo may now have extra incentive to ramp up his support for school funding: His newly announced primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, is a longtime education advocate.
As the battle over how to fund and rehabilitate New York City’s flailing subway system rages on, Cuomo has thrown his support behind congestion pricing, the idea of charging cars to drive into the busiest part of Manhattan.
But neither the Senate nor the Assembly included the congestion pricing plan in their budget proposals, although the Assembly did include a fee on for-hire vehicles. Both houses also rejected the governor’s proposal to make New York City pay for subway-related capital costs, though the Senate was open to making the city match state funding in a declared state of emergency. (The Assembly, dominated by members from the city, was not.)
In January, Cuomo unveiled a plan to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and make several other criminal justice reforms. But such legislation usually dies in the state Senate, where Republicans are often loath to appear soft on crime. (An inverse dynamic is at play in the Assembly, where Democrats generally do not like bills that increase punishments for criminal offenses.)
Still, Cuomo has continued to pound on the issue, calling the bail system “a civil-rights abuse” that “favors the wealthy.”
At first blush, this proposal — for a 2 cents-per-milligram surcharge for the active opioid ingredient in prescription drugs — would have seemed to hit a sweet spot in the divided state Legislature, addressing both the need to fight the heroin epidemic (which Senate Republicans have been actively supportive of in past sessions) and raising significant new revenue for the state, a priority for Democrats. But opposition to the plan has been vocal and politically savvy, as analysts questioned how much revenue it would raise. They also noted that because the state itself buys about a third of all opioids sold in the state, via Medicaid, it would essentially be taxing itself. Add in the GOP’s general distaste for new taxes, and the opioid plan may be an impossible pill to swallow.
Child Victims Act
Under current state law, victims must bring a case against their abusers by their 23rd birthday, one of the most restrictive statutes of limitations in the country. The Assembly has pushed for more than a decade to extend that timeline, a measure supported by both the governor and nearly 80 percent of New Yorkers. But the measure has always died in the Senate, at the urging of groups such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.
This year, Republicans have said they are open to reforming the statute of limitations. But they remain opposed to a “look-back window,” a one-year period in which any victim could bring a claim, no matter how old. (Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, has called a look-back window “toxic.”)
That window is shaping up to be the sticking point for negotiations. “The window is not toxic, and it’s also not up for debate,” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal of Manhattan, a longtime sponsor of the Child Victims Act.
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