ALBANY — A new anti-sexual harassment policy, a bid to fast-track development around Penn Station, a new name for an opioid tax and a pay raise for elected officials were among a host of last-minute proposals Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators haggled over Wednesday as they sought to agree on state budget ahead of a fast-approaching deadline.
Lawmakers have until Sunday to adopt a budget, expected to come in around $170 billion, in time for the start of New York’s 2018-19 fiscal year. But the practical deadline is Friday at sunset, as they try to finish before the start of the Passover-Easter holidays.
“We don’t have a total agreement,” Cuomo told reporters. “Until you have a total agreement, anything is possible.”
Legislators continued to say they were near a resolution, but key issues remained “open.” Most of the 200-plus rank-and-file legislators spent the day acting on unrelated bills while awaiting word from budget negotiations. It was shaping up like the typical Albany budget deadline drill: Lots of weary waiting, followed by sudden pandemonium and an all-night blitz to pass bills.
The talks included an array of policy issues that had little or nothing to do with state spending, but were top priorities for lawmakers.
Among the proposals said to be unlikely were ones to end cash bail, to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual-abuse claims and to allow early voting.
But one policy officials said was likely to be approved would change the laws on sexual harassment. The proposal would include a ban on taxpayer-funded settlements when it involves a government official and a ban on nondisclosure agreements, unless requested by the victim.
Lawmakers said they also were near agreement on imposing a fee on “for-hire vehicles” (taxes on services such as Lyft) for rides in Manhattan below 96th Street. The governor has called this a first step to implementing “congestion pricing” which is aimed at relieving gridlock while generating revenue for the troubled subway system.
Cuomo also advanced an 11th-hour proposal to give state government — not New York City — the authority to fast-track development immediately around Penn Station. City leaders and some state legislators from Manhattan cried foul when they said an early draft of the idea suggested it wouldn’t include any environmental reviews or input from city government. Cuomo officials later said that description was inaccurate and that any development plan would incorporate appropriate assessment and consultation with local leaders.
The Democrat-led Assembly, which typically goes to bat for City Hall, voiced its concerns, an official said, though it wasn’t clear if the proposal ultimately would be included in the budget.
On opioids, Cuomo had proposed a 2-cents-per-milligram charge on prescriptions to be paid by pharmaceutical companies, as a way to help fund addiction-treatment services. But with the Republican-led Senate vowing to oppose any new taxes, lawmakers were considering changing the proposed formula and redubbing it an “assessment,” rather than a tax or a surcharge, sources said.
Some legislators weren’t buying it.
“An assessment? Give me a break,” Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) said, saying the surcharge would be borne eventually by patients. “It’s just trickle-down. Taxing the pain.”
Cuomo, for the first time, acknowledged that lawmakers are discussing reviving a “pay commission” to consider giving the executive and legislative branches their first raise since 1999. Cuomo said he favored the idea of a raise — but not if the budget isn’t adopted on time.
With Michael Gormley