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ALBANY - (Updates with comment from Sen. Skelos, Speaker Heastie)
Senate Republicans so far aren’t budging in what could end up as a constitutional challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s extensive powers in the state budget.
The Senate’s GOP majority continues to refuse to introduce Cuomo’s amendments to his executive budget proposal made in January. Governors get 30 days under law to submit amendments, which are usually based on new fiscal information or are corrections of minor errors. Legislatures in the past have automatically introduced amendments so they could be part of budget negotiations.
But Cuomo’s amendments include substantial policy additions which some lawmakers say don’t belong in the budget. Cuomo’s amendments include ethics measures aimed at the Legislature which would force more disclosure on their outside jobs and limit their ability to collect per diem expenses of $172 a day for work outside their districts.
The Senate Republicans’ refusal so far to introduce Cuomo’s amendments could result in a challenge to a governor’s additional powers under a Court of Appeals decision based on the state constitution.
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif refused to say if the effort could result in legal action testing the governor’s power.
“We continue to review the policy changes advanced by the governor,” Reif said Wednesday in a written statement.
On Friday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi shot back: “The Legislature has a clear choice this year -- either they clean up the corruption, or they will shut the government down.”?
On Wednesday at a media event in Syracuse, Cuomo sought to downplay the dispute.
“I’m wagering there won’t be any lawsuit as part of the heated rhetoric we are having now,” Cuomo said. “And we will reconcile and we will compromise and we will move forward.”
Later on Wednesday, after a closed-door budget meeting with Cuomo, State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he doesn’t believe lawsuits are necessary, but that he is questioning Cuomo’s budget amendments.
“We are going through the 30-day amendments, or whatever you call them,” Skelos said. “They are very complicated ... we are all looking at it and I’m sure, in the end, we are just going to have an on-time budget. Our focus is not on lawsuits.”
On Sunday night the Democrat-led Assembly relented and announced it would introduce Cuomo’s budget amendments. That, however, hasn’t happened yet and they wouldn't commet Wednesday on their plans.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) had said in a news conference last week that he was “disappointed" in how the governor presented the 30-day amendments.
The Senate and Assembly would have to introduce the budget amendments for them to be included in negotiations for a budget, which is due by April 1.
Under a high court decision, the Legislature can’t change the wording of a governor’s budget proposal without the governor’s approval. If a budget is late, a governor can impose his or her budget and its attached policies, leaving the Legislature with the option of shutting down government.