Budget passed with unusual voting schedule
The state budget was finished three days early, but lawmakers still found things to squabble about, including the timing of the voting sessions during a week where the holidays of two major religions converge.
Initially, both houses of the legislature had hoped they would work over the weekend and that the budget would be finished well before Passover began Monday night. They thought they would not even be at the Capitol at all during the Christian Holy Week. But as negotiations dragged on and it became clear that the bills would not be ready in time, Assembly Democrats decided to post pone all voting until Thursday, a limited window between the two major holidays .
Senators came back Sunday night, as originally planned, and were clearly irritated that the Assembly had reneged upon the pre agreed upon schedule.
Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco called the Assembly’s action “impolite”.
“It’s kind of frustrating to me that we’re ready to come back Sunday, and that was the plan, and unilaterally the Assembly Speaker decides that he’s calling his conference back on Thursday,” said DeFrancisco. “You’re going to have to talk to him about what the motive is.”
Senate Deputy Republican Leader Tom Libous was also annoyed, he pointed out that it was a Christian holy day, but he was willing to work, but he says every legislator has to make their own judgment.
“I’m a Catholic, today’s Palm Sunday and I’m here working,” said Libous back on Sunday.
The Senate adjourned for the first night of Passover, but came back into session on the second night of the holiday, which Orthodox and some Conservative Jews observe.
They continued through the night, ending at 4:30 am on Wednesday. That schedule gave Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat from the Hudson Valley, the perfect opportunity to promote what he calls his “vampire” bill. It would prohibit the legislature from voting on bills between the hours of 9 pm and 9 am.
“I believe that we that could do better if we would support my Vampire Voting Acts bill that I presented to this floor,” said Gipson. “There’d be no reason for us to be here now.”
When the Assembly finally returned on Thursday for a marathon day of voting, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says it was the Senate’s schedule that was inconsiderate, while the Assembly tried to take everyone’s religious needs into consideration. And he calls criticism from some Senators “unfortunate”.
“There was no reason to be here on Sunday, I don’t know why they were here,” said Silver. “I’ve heard from a number of Senators who said ‘you did the right thing, we should have just come back today and voted on the whole budget’.
“They just killed time, basically,” Silver said.
But Silver says that’s all “irrelevant” now.
“The state’s going to have an early and certainly on time budget, and I think that’s something that we’re proud of,” Silver said.
Lawmakers do seem to agree that achieving an on time budget for the third year in a row will be more memorable in the long run than the disjointed voting schedule.
Before they were to finally finish acting on budget bills Thursday, the Assembly did pause the proceedings-- for a 90 minute church break. They finished voting on all of the bills shortly before midnight.