ALBANY - The Assembly-Senate joint budget conference committee referred to in Albany as “the mother ship” began its tedious task Thursday in crafting a state budget due April 1. But not without some fireworks.
Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the closed-door budget negotiations, which exclude minority conference leaders like her, “shuts out almost 10 million New Yorkers from the budget process.”
“The mother ship is the only place this mother will appear in negotiating the budget,” Stewart-Cousins said at the public meeting Thursday in which subcommittees were assigned areas of the budget to discuss.
Most of the budget in Albany is negotiated behind closed doors by the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker. This year talks include Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), at the request of Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
“We continue to follow the broken tradition of three _ sometimes four _ men in the room, hammering massive state policy that effects all New Yokers without true and equal representation.”
“I can understand her feelings,” Skelos said afterward. “When they were part of the majority, I used to sit outside the door, not be part of the process.”
Skelos, however, said he would have no objection if Stewart-Cousins was included in the closed-door talks. But he said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo decides who attends. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has also said he wouldn’t object to attendance by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua).
Cuomo has previously said it was up to the legislative leaders.