Budget talks are intensifying in Albany as the deadline nears, and they are revealing tensions and divides between the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the all-Democratic state legislature.
Cuomo began the week with a list of items he says he needs in the state budget in order for him to agree to it.
They include a property tax cap, criminal justice reforms and a congestion pricing plan for parts of Manhattan to help pay for fixing public transit.
And Cuomo, in an exchange with Spectrum News reporter Nick Reisman, said he won’t accept any changes to his proposal to make the temporary property tax cap permanent.
“No, no, no,” the governor said
“Would you like to expand on that?” asked Reisman.
“No,” the governor replied.
The governor’s remarks annoyed the Democratic leaders of the legislature, who say the spending plan should be worked out amicably between the two equal branches of government.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie bristled when asked by reporters about the governor’s list of requirements.
“I just don’t know how helpful it is. “I’m not standing here drawing lines in the sand that I have to have ‘x’ in order to have a budget,” said Heastie. “I don’t think it’s fair when you have to talk to two other parties to draw lines in the sand.”
Some advocates for public education funding, including the teachers union, want to end the tax cap, and local government leaders have asked for more flexibility. The cap is set at 2 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Some government leaders and the New York State School Boards Association are asking for a straight 2 percent per year cap, even in years when the rate of inflation is at or near zero.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says she’s open to talking with opponents of the tax cap about making some changes to the measure.
“And if there is something that they can collectively decide on, that they feel they need to advance, then please come and I’ll certainly listen to it,” said Stewart-Cousins, who said if the tax cap is made permanent, lawmakers need to be certain that it’s something that’s going “to work.”
Cuomo also said the Senate and Assembly Democrats were far apart on legalizing the adult use of marijuana and criminal justice reform, including an end to cash bail. Cuomo says legal cannabis is likely out of the budget, but he still wants the criminal justice reforms to be part of the spending plan. The legislative leaders say that’s a “mischaracterization” and that they have been working to resolve differences on those two measures.
The competing narratives come as Cuomo, in recent weeks, has repeatedly taken jabs at Democrats in the Senate, saying they are inexperienced at governing. Cuomo spoke on Albany public radio station WAMC, Tuesday.
“The politics is easy. ‘I support legalizing marijuana. Yay.’ Ok, everybody claps. Now, how do you do it?” Cuomo said. “Now you have to govern as opposed to just do a bumper sticker political slogan.”
Senator Stewart-Cousins, who is the first woman and African-American woman to lead the Senate, says she’s perplexed by the Democratic governor’s comments, especially since in the first months of the session, the Senate passed a number of bills that are also the governor’s priorities including strengthening abortion rights and stricter gun control measures.
“I think we’ve done a great job,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I’m thinking its SDDS, Senate Democratic Derangement Syndrome, at this point.”
The governor’s senior advisor, Rich Azzopardi, replied with a barb of his own.
“I looked it up, and Senate Derangement Syndrome is caused by hyperpolitical behavior overcoming basic government responsibility,” he said. “The cure is simple; fix the Amazon agreement you blew."
Cuomo has been feuding with Senate Democrats over Deputy Senate Leader Mike Gianaris’ opposition to the now-defunct Amazon headquarters proposal in Queens. Amazon pulled out of the deal on February 14, citing local opposition to the project.