ALBANY -- Some area legislators are against parts of the much-discussed state budget.
They say policy provisions, such as bail reform and public funding for political campaigns, are included in the $178 billion document for fiscal year 2021. They believe such provisions should not be parts of the budget.
Senator James N. Tedisco, R-Glenville, also criticized the budget process, which he said gave lawmakers little time for reading and review.
"Most of the copy we got in the last two or three days in which the budget was done, we got about an hour and a half before we were ready to vote on one of those 11 parts of the budget bills," Tedisco said on Thursday. "This is a $178 blllion budget, nobody could read through the thousands of pages that were given in an hour and a half on each of these budget things and really represent your constituents."
Tedisco said legislators from both sides of the aisle had problems with policy provisions placed in the budget. He said one of the policy pieces was a "fix" for bail reform that appeared in the 2019 budget.
"They didn't really fix it," Tedisco said. "They just gave a little bit of discretion to judges for a few crimes."
Tedisco also complained about budget policy that provides public money for political campaigns. "I couldn't support using taxpayers' money for somebody in New York City to put up their campaign signs," he said.
Tedisco also had trouble with unprecedented leeway given to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to cut state spending in the fiscal year that began Wednesday.
For such emergencies, Tedisco said, legislators could be called back into session. "We could sit down and do that collectively, like you do in a representative democracy," he said.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said he has been unable to support the budget as a whole. He has supported budget portions that devote funds to improvement of local roads, bridges and infrastructure.
"The remaining bills I voted 'No' on because I just can't support all the policy that's in this budget," Santabarbara said. "Historically, the budget is a project of trade-offs and negotiations that continuously happen throughout this process. It's no place for serous policy issues that they're discussing in this bill."
In last year's budget process, Santabarbara added, he believed it was a mistake to place bail reform business in the document.
"This year it just seems like more of the same, so I've been voting 'No' on all these bills that contain policy because right now were in a crisis," he said. "This year's budget really should have been one to stick to the important funding that we need right now, everywhere in the state without all these big policy changes getting in the way that we've seen in the past.
"This would have been a good opportunity for the governor to stop the old way of doing things and start doing things the way its meant to be," Santabarbara also said. "The budget is meant to be funding."
He believes some of that funding should be going to rural communities that critically need high-speed Internet service and better cellular phone coverage. Shortcomings, Santabarbara said, have been highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis.
"People are trying to work from home without reliable cell phone service," he said.
As for bail reform, Santabarbara said, "There's no way he [Cuomo] is going to be able to fix this in the budget and do it the right way. This is wrong way to do this, it should have been a stand alone bill. These policy issues deserve their own discussion outside the budget."
Senator Neil D. Breslin, D-Albany, said he is pleased with the budget, and pleased with the work the Legislature and governor have performed.
"We were able to protect education, we were able to protect health care and we were able to do some policy items in the budget," Breslin said.
Breslin said the work has been done under difficult circumstances.
"I think both the Senate and the Assembly, both Democrats and Republicans and the governor rose to the occasion," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic represents a major worry.
"I think all of us have a bit of a fright in where we're at and where we're going," Breslin said. "We're solicitous of our own health as well as the health of our families, and at the same time we're very nervous about the future of our area, the Capital District and our country. I believe that unfortunately, as in most different calamities, it's the people who have the least who are hurt the most."
Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie;, voted against four budget bills, including the one that provided extraordinary gubernatorial powers.
"I'm voting 'No' on transportation because transportation is where they put the bill to create public financing of elections, and to me, allotting $200 million to public financing at a time when you're talking about massive budget cuts doesn't make a lot of sense," Steck said. "And I'm also voting 'No' on the health budget because of the effect that these Medicaid cuts are going to have at a time when you're trying to maintain the health of the population. You're cutting basically health insurance for poorer people, so it doesn't make a lot a sense to me."
Steck also voted against the budget's "revenue" bill.
"There are no new revenue measures," he said. "This budget problem is not a crisis of expenses, it's a crisis of lack of revenue because when the economy goes down, you lose income tax, you lose sales tax. People aren't working and your demand for government relief goes up, so it's a double whammy."
Steck said he could not approve of additional powers for the governor.
"I don't think my constituents elected me to be a potted plant for the governor," Steck said. "They elected me to scrutinize what the governor does and if we're voting to give him the authority to do as he wishes, then I don't see how I'm fulfilling my job that my constituents elected me to do."
Senator George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said he could not support the budget. Amedore described the document as a "bad budget for New Yorkers" in a press statement.
"This year’s budget process was unprecedented as the state and nation continue to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic," Amedore said in the statement. "In these uncertain times, the governor and the Legislature had an opportunity to take measures to help provide relief for families and businesses who are struggling as our economy is shut down.
"Instead, we are now faced with harmful cuts to essential programs, costly mandates that will make it harder to create and retain jobs when the economy gets back up and running, and additional burdens on our local governments, which will end up costing the property taxpayer more in the long run."
Amedore also criticized the "policy" additions.
"The budget is also filled with political policy issues that were included with no public discussion or input," he said. "If there was ever a year to keep policy out of the budget and focus on the fiscal issues and providing relief to New Yorkers who are struggling in the midst of this pandemic, this was it."
Assemblyman Christopher Tague, R-Schoharie, backed environmental projects for his district and for the state. He is also against policy issues in the print.
"If it doesn't have to do with funding or finances of the state, it shouldn't be in the budget," he said. "All the policy measures except for the environmental ones I've mentioned have all been policy bills with no financial up or down in regards to the state of New York.
"They are bills they wanted to get passed during regular session and they couldn't get it done before budget time," Tague added. "Now, with the coronavirus, we're not sure when we're going to come back into session after the budget is approved and put in place.
"I've advocated ... knock off the policy stuff to try and stick policy items in the budget, load on a bare bones budget that can keep state operations moving, make sure the employees get paid, make sure all the agencies have the operating funds they need ... don't put any policy issues in the budget. We'll deal with the policy issues after this pandemic, when it's safe for people to get back together."
Tague also had problems with budget energy policy for solar farm projects, which he said takes away farmland.
He said the COVID-19 crisis has shown how important food is. "The adage that 'No farms, no food,' it couldn't mean any more than it does right now," Tague said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]