The State Budget Was Due at Midnight; Here's What We Know
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters on March 31, 2020.
Credit: Dan Clark
Update Published: 7:10 p.m. on Wednesday April 1, 2020. Check back for updates.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reached a “conceptual agreement” with the state Legislature on this year’s state budget, a multibillion dollar spending plan that’s been complicated this year by the spread of COVID-19 in New York state.

Read more here.

Update Below Published: 11:28 a.m. on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Check back for updates.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of the state Legislature had not announced a deal on the state budget, which was due at midnight.

We learned Wednesday morning, however, that Democrats in the Legislature have agreed to allow the state Division of Budget to adjust the spending plan at various points throughout the year. That provision was introduced as a way for officials to control spending based on revenues in the coming months.

The measure will allow the Division of Budget, controlled by Cuomo, to revise how much the state will spend at certain parts of the years in various areas, like aid to local governments and schools. Those decisions will be based on how much money the state has at that time.

In other words, if the state determines that it doesn't have as much money as it thought it would at a certain point, it could lower the amount it's willing to dole out to local governments, and other spending areas.

The state Division of Budget will make those determinations after looking at revenue during three measurement periods:

  • April 1, 2020 through April 30, 2020
  • May 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020
  • July 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020

The Legislature won't be left out of the process, according to the bill. Lawmakers have 10 days after the Division of Budget decides to adjust spending to come up with their own plan, and approve it through a concurrent resolution between both chambers.

If lawmakers don't approve a resolution in that time with their own plan for the state's finances, the strategy proposed by the Division of Budget will automatically take effect, according to the bill.

Original Post Below Published: 6:44 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Check back for updates.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of the state Legislature have until midnight Tuesday to come to a deal on the state budget, and approve the spending plan, in order for it to be implemented before the start of the state’s fiscal year.

That’s unlikely to happen. At this point in budget negotiations each year, lawmakers usually start to hint that a deal is coming together. This year, those tea leaves are absent.

That’s largely because lawmakers aren’t at the state capitol. They’re either sequestered in their offices in an adjacent building, spending time at a nearby hotel, or still in their district. There’s virtually no sign of life at the capitol, absent Cuomo and his staff.

Lawmakers have, instead, been negotiating the state budget via phone, and sometimes through video-chatting applications, like Zoom.

We learned Tuesday that a few top issues have survived negotiations on the state budget, while others have fallen out. Two budget bills, out of several, were introduced in the early morning, and Cuomo confirmed a few details on the spending plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo | March 31, 2020

For those unfamiliar with the state budget in New York, Cuomo and lawmakers use the spending plan every year to force negotiations on controversial issues. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

For one, lawmakers will not legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state budget this year, Cuomo confirmed Tuesday. That’s not a surprise to many, and New York NOW previously reported that the Democrat who sponsors the measure in the Senate predicted the issue was off the table.

“Not likely,” Cuomo said. “Too much, too little time.”

Cuomo also indicated that Democrats were still considering changes to the state’s laws on cash bail, which took effect in January.

“Bail reform is something we’ve talked about until we’re blue in the face for two years,” Cuomo said. “Bail reform we have to get done.”

The laws have been a reliable target for Republicans and Democrats in swing districts this year. They’ve said the laws should be changed to allow more people to be held in jail before trial, or at least allow judges to make that decision based on certain factors.

But other Democrats have said those changes would disenfranchise people of color. Depending on the factors lawmakers allow judges to consider, those individuals could be more likely to be held before trial, they’ve said.

Democrats who spoke to New York NOW Tuesday said changes to cash bail were one of the remaining sticking points in the state budget.

Lawmakers did agree, however, to establish a $40 million fund in the budget to help prosecutors implement the state’s new laws on discovery, or the exchange of information with the defense before trial. Those laws took effect in January.

That money, according to the bill, would come from funds obtained by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office through various prosecutions.

Sources also said last week that lawmakers were considering changes to discovery laws, which now require prosecutors to hand over information to the defense within 15 days of an arraignment. That period could be extended, sources said.

The New York State Assembly

A ban on the sale of flavored vaping products is also likely to be included in the spending plan, sources said Tuesday. The legislation may include a provision that would allow some flexibility on the ban in the future, dependent on federal actions, but language hasn’t been released.

Lawmakers agreed to pass the measure after a previous ban on the sale of flavored vaping products was struck down in court. That ban had been implemented administratively by the state Department of Health.

The court, in its ruling, had said the agency exceeded its authority with the ban, and that such an action would have to come from the Legislature.

Democrats have also come to an agreement on creating a new criminal charge of domestic terrorism in New York. That provision was included in one of the two budget bills introduced early Tuesday.

To be charged with domestic terrorism in the first degree, an individual would have to try to kill at least five people, successfully kill at least one person, and be 18 years or older. They would also have to be shown to be motivated by someone’s race, religion, or other defining characteristic.

The legislation will also include a charge of domestic terrorism in the second degree, which would apply if someone tries to kill at least five people, but doesn’t succeed in murdering any of them.

Cuomo proposed the measure after last year’s attack in Monsey, where a group of people were attacked at a rabbi’s home during a celebration of Hanukkah.

There are a slew of issues that still remain either unresolved, or unknown, at this point. The legalization of gestational surrogacy was on the table as recently as last week, but Cuomo said earlier this week that some Democrats have objected to the measure.

There’s also a question as to whether lawmakers will move to codify public financing of campaigns in this year’s state budget. A panel created rules for a public campaign finance system last year in New York, but those standards were thrown out in court.

But, given that the legislation would have financial implications, it may be off the table. New York started the year with a projected $6.1 billion budget deficit, and the COVID-19 pandemic has landed the state even deeper in the hole in the last few weeks.

The budget is technically due at midnight Tuesday, but lawmakers could pass it at any time this week without major consequences.