State lawmakers struggle to settle on a new budget

Apr 2, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP)  The threat of a government shutdown loomed Sunday as New York lawmakers struggled to strike deals on a budget, an impasse that harkened back to Albany's tradition of dysfunction that Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo had pledged to end. 

Outstanding issues included education spending, charter schools and juvenile justice reform. The budget was supposed to be approved by Saturday, the start of a new fiscal year. Lawmakers said they could start voting on the more than $150 billion spending plan on Monday. 

``We're still trying to get things done,'' Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said after emerging from another closed-door meeting with Cuomo. 

Cuomo was poised Sunday night to introduce legislation that would temporarily extend the current budget, a backup plan known as an extender, to keep money flowing into state programs, salaries and projects. An extender likely would not include some of the popular proposals under discussion this year, including Cuomo's calls to increase college tuition aid or invest billions of dollars in the state's aging water infrastructure. 

Under state law legislative pay could be withheld as long as lawmakers fail to pass a budget, giving them another reason to strike a deal. 

If Cuomo does propose an extender, lawmakers could reject it, risking a government shutdown. Many lawmakers are in no hurry to work with the governor, still holding him responsible for blocking their first legislative pay raise in nearly 20 years last fall. 

``I don't think anyone would like to shut the government down,'' said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat. 

A budget would need to be approved by Wednesday for the state to meet payroll. 

The delay is a defeat for Cuomo, who likes to boast of a string of on-time budgets early in his tenure as governor. Cuomo is considered a possible White House contender in 2020 and has won two terms as New York's executive on promises to tackle government dysfunction. 

One key sticking point remains a proposal known as ``raise the age,'' which would end the state's practice of prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults. The change is a priority for Heastie and other Democrats, but it has raised concerns among Senate Republicans. 

Negotiations dragged on Sunday evening, despite indications lawmakers had nearly reached a compromise two days ago, said Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse. 

``I'm numb, not optimistic,'' DeFrancisco said. ``I'm not pessimistic, I'm numb.'' 

New York negotiations also focused on how to divide increased education funding and whether to increase the number of authorized charter schools. 

The budget deal is likely to include $2 billion to $2.5 billion for water quality and upgrades to aging water infrastructure, Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan said, as well as $163 million to make college tuition more affordable. 

Cuomo introduced his $152 billion budget proposal in January. The proposal keeps the status quo when it comes to taxes, adds $1 billion in new public education spending and includes expanded child care tax credits and a new initiative making state college tuition free for students from families earning $125,000 or less annually. 

The governor first floated the idea of extending the current budget last week, citing the likelihood of cuts in federal funding for health care and other programs. He said delaying work on the budget for a few months, until after those federal cuts are laid out, could make it easier for the state to adjust. 

``The federal budget comes out on May 21, and we will have more information at that time,'' Cuomo said in a statement Saturday. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that New York and North Carolina are the only states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.  

While they are the only states that regularly route 16-year-olds into adult courts and prisons, a total of seven states still try 17-year-olds as adults and in some cases imprison them with adult inmates.  

Other states try teenagers as adults only in cases involving extreme violence or other aggravating circumstances.

New York will gradually shift 16- and 17-year-olds into family court and juvenile detention centers over the next two years.