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Capitol Watch: Will state budget be late?

FILE- This Jan. 15, 2019 file photo shows the New York state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top budget official is warning about the growing possibility the state budget will be late as Cuomo wrangles with his fellow Democrats in the Legislature over the details of the $175 billion spending proposal. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

The state Senate and Assembly each passed their ideal state budget proposals Wednesday evening.

These “one-house” budget proposals are a sort of response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget — which he issued in January — and they mark the start of a negotiation period, where all three state budget proposals will be pared down into one budget, to be voted on April 1.

Totals and taxes

The Executive Budget totaled $176 billion, the Assembly’s proposed spending is $711 million more, or 0.9 percent higher than the Executive Budget proposal, and the state Senate has not set a total for its budget.

“Amazingly, the governor’s proposed budget increases taxes on New Yorkers by over $4 billion next year,” Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, wrote in an email. “Even more remarkably, the Assembly Majority’s proposed budget would add $1.7 billion above this. As New York’s taxes and spending continue this out-of-control spiral, people are voting with their feet and leaving the high tax/high regulatory state for lower taxes and better opportunities.”

Both legislative budgets aim to restore Aid and Incentives to Municipalities funding for towns and villages to $715 million. Cuomo’s Executive Budget reduced that funding by $59 million, which was strongly opposed by local governments in the North Country and around the state.

“These cuts would cost North Country towns and villages over $5 million in state support, which could force local governments to consider cutting vital services or raising property taxes,” Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, wrote in a press release.

Both also increased school district foundation aid, which makes up the majority of the state aid to public schools.The Senate’s proposal doubled the state’s school aid increase, from 3 percent to 6 percent, according to state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.

Both budgets also included language regarding marijuana legalization. The Assembly’s was more passive than the Senate’s.

“I also strongly advocated and was successful in removing an executive proposal to close up to three prisons in the next year from the Assembly budget proposal,” Jones wrote in a press release.

Assembly

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, said the Assembly did something with its budget that it has not done in a long time.

“For the most part we took out all policy,” Jones said. “It’s something that many of us in the Assembly have been calling for. In past years, the Governor does put a lot of policy in the budget. This year, we took most of it out.”

Stec said the budget should involve revenues and expenses only, and that policy is often placed in there to use the money as leverage to pass legislation that would not usually make it through the Legislature.

“One of my biggest frustrations with the state’s practice with generating the budget is … there’s a lot of language in here that isn’t budgetary language,” Stec said. “It’s policy, it’s stuff that should not be included in a budget.”

Senate

The Senate’s budget resolution passed by a vote of 40-21, with Little contributing one of the “no” votes.

Little said she voted no on the budget, even though she thinks there’s “lots of good things” in it, because it did not include a financial plan. She said it was a list of expenses, with little information on revenues. Though Little said the budget presenters said it stays within the 2 percent tax cap, it did not have a total dollar amount.

The Mothership

Now that all three budget proposals have been released, the different committee is focusing on issues around the state will discuss the best course of action for combining all of them.

“Starting right tonight is the major conference committee,” Little said. That’s what they call the ‘Mothership.’ Next is the conference committee meetings.”

Little is on the education committee. Stec is on the mental hygiene committee. Jones is on the general government and local assistance committee.

Stec said leaders from the Assembly, Senate and Governor’s office will hear the finding of each committee and negotiate behind closed doors, which he was critical of.

“This will be negotiated privately — three leaders in a room — then they’ll go back to their conferences,” Stec said. “Then at the last minute, we’ll be getting bills in the middle of the night and being asked to look at them, to read a 500 page bill in a matter of two hours and then vote on it. And that’s how we’re going to spend $175 billion.”

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