NY budget talks hit home stretch

03.25.19 | Bob Price

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature are making tough choices as they try to get a spending plan in place by an April 1 deadline.

A proposal for Manhattan congestion pricing to fund the ailing transit system is still alive in the spending plan negotiations, as is one to make permanent a 2 percent cap on local property tax increases.

Getting a proposal in the final budget increases the chances it will become a reality but there are no guarantees.

Pulled from the state budget talks: legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana.

But that issue could still be ironed out in separate legislation before the Assembly and Senate are set to end their 2019 session on June 19.

After saying earlier in the week that he was "cautiously optimistic" on congestion pricing, Cuomo said during a Friday news conference at the Capitol that he won't agree to a plan that doesn't include reforming the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the city's subways.

Cuomo isn't as optimistic that public financing of political campaigns will be included in the estimated $175 billion budget plan for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

The Senate and Assembly will be in session Monday through Friday this coming week, the only full work week scheduled for the 61-day 2019 session. If a budget deal isn't in place by the end of the day Friday, lawmakers could remain in Albany over the weekend to get it done.

HOW DO YOU REALLY FEEL, GOVERNOR? Cuomo, now in his third term, didn't hide his feelings about budget negotiations when he spoke to Alcoa managers and employees in Massena on Thursday while announcing a low-cost power deal that will keep 450 jobs in the North Country.

"I've been locked up in budget hell in Albany, negotiating the state budget with the Assembly and the Senate, which is sort of like going to the doctor's office with no Novocain, it just goes on and on, that dull pain," he said.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: Reigning in the influence lobbyists can wield over what gets done in Albany has been on lawmakers' to-do list for years. But actually doing something to reform the state's campaign finance laws has been another matter.

"It's nice to hear the rhetoric on reform, but we haven't seen the reality," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group, a state government watchdog organization. "Albany is a pay-to-play culture."

Earlier this month NYPIRG released the St. Patrick's Day edition of its "Albany Money Machine" list of campaign fundraisers held near the state Capitol since the Legislature reconvened Jan. 9, along with those scheduled to be held through the end of March, when lawmakers and the governor are negotiating to get a budget in place by the April 1 deadline.

The list, compiled through information provided by lobbyists, includes more than 120 events, all but three of them held in Albany, where lobbyists for various special interests donate to legislators' re-election campaigns.

Good-government groups say fundraisers should be banned while the Legislature is in session, something that's law in more than two dozen states.

"As long as you're relying on big bucks from people with business before government, it's bad," Horner said.

NYPIRG's list released on March 15 included a fundraiser Cuomo held the night before at a swanky Manhattan hotel. The event wasn't included in the daily schedule his office releases to the media, and it didn't appear on his campaign website. According to the New York Post, donors were asked to contribute up to $25,000.

Legislative leaders and Cuomo say they want to reform campaign finances, with Cuomo pushing for including the reforms in the state budget. Public financing for campaigns would ensure big-money donors don't have so much influence in election outcomes, Cuomo said earlier this week.

"We have to do more, there's no doubt about it," he told WNYC radio.