ALBANY — The Senate and Assembly on Saturday passed a $220 billion state budget in marathon overnight sessions that capped one of Albany’s most secretive paths to a spending plan.
The Senate passed its final budget bills at 4:45 a.m. Saturday, while the Assembly closed its session at 9:29 a.m. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bills into law later Saturday.
The budget was due April 1.
The budget increased spending by $8 billion from the 2021-22 budget. Much of the increase was prompted by billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief aid and rapidly rising state tax revenues.
The budget includes changes to a 2020 bail law that will provide judges more discretion in setting bail for a few more offenses. It also includes a $4.2 billion environmental bond act, $600 million in funding over several years to help pay for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, as well as record increases in school aid and funding for child care, universal prekindergarten and public colleges. School aid increased $2.1 billion to $31.5 billion.
Tax breaks are included for middle class families and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Policy measures include a return of alcohol-to-go service with meals from restaurants and suspension of the state sales tax on gasoline by 16 cents per gallon from June to Dec. 31.
Criticism came swiftly Saturday. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned of recurring spending without recurring revenues to pay for them that could create a “fiscal cliff.” The independent Citizens Budget Commission shares that concern.
The budget result “was absolutely awful, wildly excessive even by New York standards,” said E.J. McMahon, a veteran budget analyst for the fiscally conservative Empire Center think tank.
Hochul and Democratic legislators, however, said the budget seizes the opportunity to use extra revenues to bolster state services and achieve some longtime progressive social goals while addressing the rising cost of living for New Yorkers.
Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) concluded budget negotiations by phone and private meetings around 3 a.m. Thursday. Budget bills totaling hundreds of pages were then rushed into print and made public just hours before voting under a common process in Albany that allows little time for lobbyists to derail support.
Hochul and the Democratic majorities of the Senate and Assembly then agreed to “messages of necessity” that allowed them to suspend the state constitution’s requirement of three days’ public review of all legislation.
Hours of debate in the legislature began Thursday afternoon. Because of Albany’s practice of private negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders of the majority parties, all that debate yielded not one change in spending or wording from the deal struck by Democrats.
“Albany does not have a ‘budget process,’ it has a few weeks of the governor and legislature making their biggest decisions of the year in secret,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a good-government advocacy group. “The governor and legislature have it backward: the most important issues should get the most public debate, not the least.”
On Saturday morning, lawmakers showed signs of exhaustion, from missing a cue to debate to some emotional arguments, but also some camaraderie from the ordeal.
Assemb. Kevin Cahill (D-Kingston) thanked his colleagues on both sides of the aisle for “enduring all of this … and to the speaker who allowed all of us a chance to speak.”
“Let’s go home and get some rest,” said Assembly Republican leader William Barclay of Pulaski.
The Assembly then adjourned until April 25.