Capitol Bureau

Capitol Bureau correspondent Karen DeWitt reports on what is happening in Albany, and how the decisions made by lawmakers affect you. Karen reports for WXXI and New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.

She is also a regular contributor to New York Now, the statewide public television program about New York State government seen on WXXI-TV Sundays at 6:30 p.m.  

Matt Ryan New York Now

State lawmakers hoped to finish the budget overnight, one day after the deadline, after  an agreement reached with Gov. Andrew Cuomo will give the governor broad new powers to add or subtract spending throughout the year, as the state continues to cope out with the fallout from the coronavirus.

Cuomo said it’s a “remarkable” achievement that the budget was agreed to at all, when he and state lawmakers are under such stress dealing with the steeply rising cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said legalizing recreational marijuana is not going to be part of the state budget this year.

Cuomo made his comments as the budget deadline approached with no agreement on how to close a $15 billion budget gap, caused by the fallout from the coronavirus.

He was asked about the fate of the legal cannabis proposal during his daily briefing on the coronavirus. 

"It's not likely," he said. "Too much, too little time." 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he knows many New Yorkers are trying to get through to the state’s website and phone lines to apply for unemployment, and are facing long waits and crashing systems.

He says the Labor Department normally gets 50,000 calls regarding unemployment a week, now it is getting over 1 million calls a day -- 1.2 million on Monday and 7.8 million over the past week.

Karen DeWitt / WXXI News

The deadline for the state budget is midnight March 31, and lawmakers, facing a massive deficit, are meeting at the State Capitol, which is off-limits to the public.

Meanwhile, yet another legislator has tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The latest to become sick is Sen. Jim Seward, a Republican from Oneonta who's the ranking minority member on the Finance Committee. Seward, who is receiving cancer treatments, has had mild symptoms from COVID-19 and will be discharged from the hospital shortly to recover at home, his office said. Seward's wife also has the virus. 

Governor Cuomo's office

More than 230 New Yorkers died of the coronavirus in the past day, for a total of more than 1,200 so far, a number Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “beyond staggering.”

Cuomo, in his daily update on the virus, said hospitals and their workers are already overwhelmed, two weeks before the virus is expected to peak. He asked health care workers from around the nation to consider coming to New York to help. 

Governor Cuomo's office

A new poll by Siena College shows a big change of fortune for Governor Andrew Cuomo, with 87% approving of his handling of the coronavirus.

In addition to high ratings on how Cuomo’s dealing with deadly virus, Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg says the Governor’s favorable rating, which for years has hovered in the mid 40% to around 50%, (in February of 2020 his approval rating was just 44%), is now much higher.

Governor Cuomo's office

Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended the mandatory closure of all non-essential businesses and ban on gatherings in New York for another two weeks, through April 15. That time period includes the Passover and Easter holidays.

Cuomo says he knows it will be difficult, but as the rate of the virus in New York continues to climb, it seems necessary to extend the ban through the spring holidays.

“It’s hard,” Cuomo said.

But he says in the City of New Rochelle, New York’s first coronavirus hotspot, people attending religious services helped spread the virus.


Several New York state lawmakers and a co-chair of the state Board of Elections are pressing for New York to expand its absentee voting laws to allow for more mail-in balloting and to postpone the April 28 presidential primary until late June.  

New York has strict rules, outlined in the state’s constitution, about who can request an absentee ballot. The person either must be ill or out of the county they live in on Election Day. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing a state budget deadline in less than a week, is out with a new proposal to try to cope as the state faces a multibillion-dollar budget gap and much uncertainty, with the economy shut down due to coronavirus.

Matt Ryan New York Now

State lawmakers have just one week until the state budget is due, and despite the coronavirus outbreak, they say they intend to meet the deadline and will use precautions to avoid meeting in large groups.

They face a daunting task of putting together a spending plan while a multibillion-dollar deficit grows each day. 

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said on March 17 that the state’s $6 billion deficit could grow by $4 billion to $7 billion. Now, even those numbers appear outdated.