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New York state lawmakers poised to pass a fifth spending extender Monday as budget talks drag on

state capitol building
UpstateNYer
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CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons
The eastern side of the New York state Capitol in Albany, NY.

New York state lawmakers have the weekend off after they failed to reach an agreement on the state budget, which is now three weeks late.

Before they left, they passed another spending extender to keep the state going until Monday.

The $3.6 billion spending extender will ensure that emergency workers from the Division of Military and Naval Affairs get paid on time, and that schools receive payments due to them early next week.

On the Senate floor, Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from the Southern Tier, joked with Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, that after passing three spending extenders since April 1, he was experiencing a bit of deja vu.

“Has the sponsor seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day?’” Borrello asked with a laugh.

“I believe I answered that after the last extender,” Krueger replied. “Yes, I enjoy the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’”

The premise of the 1993 film, of course, is that the main character is forced to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right. Lawmakers hope that this time, they will also be able to resolve their differences over the budget and finally be able to move on.

Negotiations became a bit easier after Gov. Kathy Hochul dropped one of her key priorities in the budget, an ambitious housing plan that would have built 800,000 new units over the next few years.

Suburban lawmakers had balked over a provision that would have allowed the state, in some cases, to override local zoning laws. And progressive lawmakers did not want to agree to any housing plan unless it included the tenants' rights provision known as Good Cause Eviction.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said earlier in the week that if the housing proposal was taken out of the budget, the Legislature and governor would work toward achieving a package in the remaining weeks of the session.

“I think that the housing conversation will go on because of the necessity of housing long beyond this budget,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Whatever happens, we will have to address things that people need.”

The governor’s other big budget priority is revising the state’s bail reform laws to make it easier for judges to hold defendants accused of more serious crimes before their trial dates. The governor wants to get rid of a clause that requires judges to use the “least restrictive means” to ensure that someone will return for a court date.

Stewart-Cousins said agreement on bail reform is “very, very close.”

Lawmakers still have to decide, though, on billions of dollars in spending priorities on education, including adding more charter schools; raising the minimum wage; and whether to ban flavored tobacco products.

Borrello, during debate, blamed policy items in the budget for the continued delay. And he decried the lack of transparency in a process largely controlled by the governor and the two Democratic legislative leaders.

“People in general, distrust government, they distrust this process, because they're not part of it,” said Borrello, who added many rank-and-file lawmakers, like him, are often kept in the dark about the details.

“There should be no policy in this budget,” Borrello said.

Democrats agree and say it would be easier if the budget were limited to state spending items. Hochul, like governors before her, has inserted her top agenda priorities into the budget, because that’s when the executive has more power to get those items approved.

Hochul has not spoken publicly about the budget in over a week.

The extender passed Thursday is not likely to be the final one. Krueger told Borrello that lawmakers will almost certainly have to approve a fifth temporary spending measure by midday Monday to ensure that tens of thousands of state workers get paid.

“Unless there are budget bills that could be possibly passed by Monday at noon, which I don't believe is possible, we’ll be doing another ‘Groundhog Day’ scene with you and I, next Monday,” Krueger said.

Krueger, who in her 20 years in the Senate has seen budget talks drag on until as late as August, said she hopes that this time, the story line changes.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.