ALBANY - (Updates with comment from Sen. Stewart-Cousins)
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday said he’d be willing to have the leader of the minority party Republicans join him in “three men in a room” negotiations over the $149.9 billion state budget, but it’s up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who gets into those closed-door talks.
“The governor is the person who invites people to the meetings,” Heastie said in his news conference on the budget. “You should ask the governor those questions.”
When Cuomo last month was asked the same question about transparency in the budget process, the governor told reporters: “It’s up to the Legislature who they want to invite.”
"All legislative leaders should be part of budget discussions,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua). "The governor needs to be more inclusive. Every New Yorker deserves to have their voice heard at the table.”
Cuomo had no comment.
Good-government advocates have long criticized the "three men in a room” talks that allows leaders to take positions and make trade-offs that don’t have to be made public, while deciding to spend billions of taxpayer dollars.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) is partnering with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who leads the five members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference. Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- who represents far more Democrats -- isn’t allowed in the negotiations in Cuomo’s office.
"All leaders should be ?included," said Stewart-Cousins. "The more diversity and light we can shine on this process the better it is for everyone."
The Albany tradition doesn’t allow the Assembly’s Republican minority or the Senate’s Democratic minority conference to have a seat at the budget hearings even though those conferences represent millions of New Yorkers.
Heastie (D-Bronx) also defended the budget process, noting he represents the views of his Democratic conference determined in their own closed-door meetings. He also noted that the Assembly and Senate hold public budget hearings in which advocates and lobbyists can make cases for specific spending.
“It would be almost impossible to try to negotiate everything in public,” he said.