ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders are eyeing next week to possibly wrap up a state budget, amid growing grumbling about tardiness and secrecy.
Hochul, a Democrat, is laboring to close her first budget deal since becoming governor in August. A plan was supposed to be in by Friday, the start of New York’s 2022-23 fiscal year. Now, the fastest they could finish is Monday, although the lack of agreement has some legislators thinking the end of the week.
The hold up is centered primarily on high-profile issues such as bail laws, gasoline tax suspension and a Buffalo Bills stadium — items that aren’t part of a normal budget but are key policy objectives for the governor. Besides philosophical opposition, some legislators are upset the governor threw those into the budget debate in March, not long before the deadline.
But lawmakers also are stymied on small details, too, such as whether a law to allow alcohol-to-go sales should allow customers to buy a bottle of wine from a restaurant, sources say. Another is the governor’s push to include in the budget a renewal of the law that gives the New York City mayor control of schools — even though it doesn’t expire until later in the year.
To be sure, all will probably be forgotten quickly if lawmakers reach a budget deal in the next few days. But it’s not been as smooth as some expected when, in January, Hochul unveiled a $216 billion budget proposal. It won praise from the Democratic-dominated State Legislature — especially for generous spending increases for schools, universities and child care, but those issues have slipped from the limelight.
“It’s been bumpy,” said Blair Horner, longtime legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “In fairness to the governor, we’re in a bumpy time and it’s her first time through this.”
Republicans and Hochul’s rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, not surprisingly, blasted the governor for tardiness.
“The people of New York expect and deserve an on-time spending plan,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski). “Instead, they have been subjected to a secretive, closed-door and ultimately, failed budget negotiation that has left the state’s record-breaking spending plan, which could exceed $220 billion, in limbo.”
The immediate impact of missing the deadline was symbolic rather than practical. But lawmakers will have to either approve a budget or a temporary emergency spending bill in place by Monday evening so some state employees pay checks aren’t delayed, the state comptroller’s office has warned.
The Bills’ stadium looks as if it has enough support among legislators to be included in a final budget deal. But the amount of taxpayers’ money involved — $850 million — and the timing of the governor’s surprise announcement in mid-March has triggered vocal criticism.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running for governor, called it the “biggest giveaway in NFL history” and said the team owners should “pay for the whole thing.” He said the State Legislature should convene hearings about the aid package before approving anything.
“This is an enormous deal,” Suozzi told reporters. “It deserves a process. It deserves a hearing. It deserves analysis. It deserves justification.”
Legislators also grumbled about the late introduction of a proposal to allow the New York Racing Association to issue $450 million in bonds to upgrade Belmont Park. No state money would be involved, but key legislators said they were caught off guard and needed more information.
Horner said budget negotiations in Albany “always range from less secretive to more secretive” and put this year in the latter category.
“Issues that show up late aren’t being debated in a meaningful way,” he said. “The Bills’ stadium, bail. Yet those are two of the big issues holding up the budget.”
Hochul has said repeatedly she wouldn’t negotiate issues publicly — but that’s triggered complaints about a lack of transparency.
In her latest statement on the budget, issued late Thursday, Hochul said she was close to a deal with the Senate and Assembly.
"New Yorkers should know that progress is being made and that we will put in the time it takes to reach an agreement that delivers for them and moves our state forward,” Hochul said.