As budget discussions continue, there is some hope that, if there is a Stimulus 4  package at the Federal level, New York will have the flexibility to address our deficit and help support funding for the mental health agencies and other members of the human service sector. We will continue to advocate both at the State and national level that this must be a priority area.

 

Lawmakers Feeling “Impotent,” “Concerned” Over State Budget

By Susan Arbetter New York State
PUBLISHED 2:00 PM ET Mar. 30, 2020

The situation is dire. There’s no money. The budget is due at midnight on Tuesday. Traditional in-person negotiations are limited thanks to the contagion, and the governor, whose popularity is skyrocketing, wants yet more power.

In a series of interviews with lawmakers from both parties, some say they feel sidelined, impotent and out-of-time.  Some are resigned to the situation. Others say they get it.

“It’s not so much the process which has always needed more transparency,” said one lawmaker. “It’s that he [Cuomo] believes he is at the apex of his power and it’s harder than it’s ever been to say no to him.”

“I get what the governor is trying to do,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a former mayor of Cohoes and the owner of Marra’s Pharmacy. “Mayors, county executives, legislators, educators – they have now been enlisted in the ‘Save More Money’ corps.”

Another lawmaker expressed reservations about any spending plan that will be passed in the next 36 hours: “To think we will pass a budget and everything will be hunky-dory is to have total blinders on.”

Assembly Democrats spent 5 hours over Zoom discussing the budget on Saturday, and another 9 hours on Sunday doing the same thing.

Most lawmakers agree that there has been very little pushback from the Assembly when it comes to giving the governor the power he wants in order to make mid-year budget cuts. This is in spite of having a well-respected budget watchdog in the legislature’s corner: the Citizens Budget Commission.

CBC Director of State Studies David Friedfel says this isn’t the time for the legislature to hand over to Cuomo the ability to amend the state budget each quarter, nor is it the time for the legislature to allow the State Division of Budget, rather than the Office of the Comptroller, to determine whether a reimbursement to the state is considered revenue or a reduction of expenses.

“The legislature is a separately elected body and they have a responsibility,” said Friedfel.

Assembly Republican Ed Ra agrees with Friedfel.

“We understand that there’s going to be adjustments during the year,” Ra said. “But I think we also understand that our job is to weigh in.  I expect we will be back.”

Add the League of Women Voters to the list of groups that are less than thrilled by the governor’s proposed power grab.

“Although these are unprecedented times, the public has a right to expect transparency and accountability from the executive and legislature. Budget negotiations that allow the governor to make funding decisions without the input of the Assembly and Senate undermine the importance of our checks and balance system,” the league said in a statement. “If the governor does feel it necessary to make drastic funding cuts, we hope he will provide detailed justifications to taxpayers and impacted agencies and individuals.”

Speaking for himself, Assemblyman Ra expressed concern that the governor’s new powers would be “interdisciplinary.” In other words, “that he’ll be able to transfer large pots of money from one part of the budget to another. From, say, education to healthcare. That would not be acceptable.”

One Democrat said that whatever the end result is, lawmakers will retain the power to return to Albany and amend the budget on their own.

But the greater issue is political. Do lawmakers really want to return to Albany, in an election year, when all they will likely be doing is cutting programs?

Several lawmakers are looking to D.C. for help.

“Everybody is hanging their hat on this ‘Stimulus 4,’ ” one lawmaker said.

“Pressure needs to be placed on our colleagues in Washington,” said another.

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