ALBANY, N.Y. >> New York state avoided a government shutdown Monday when reluctant lawmakers passed an emergency two-month spending measure proposed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo after he and the Legislature failed to strike a deal on a spending plan.
The stopgap measure will fund state operations through May 31, though lawmakers say it shouldn’t take them that long to come to an agreement on a one-year budget. Lawmakers won’t be paid until that happens, giving them one more reason to reach a consensus.
Few lawmakers expressed enthusiasm for the short-term bill, known as a budget ‘extender,’ which Cuomo introduced after he and lawmakers blew through a Saturday budget deadline.
“Passing this extender isn’t a punt of our duties,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters. “I’m just trying to make sure that government isn’t shut down.”
One key sticking point in the budget 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. Lawmakers in North Carolina, the only other state where 16- and 17-year-old offenders are prosecuted as adults, also are considering legislation to raise the age.
Negotiations in Albany were also bogged down over how to divide increased education funding, the details of an affordable housing and development tax credit in New York City and whether to increase the number of authorized charter schools.
“I believe we can get there,” Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said of the work to craft the more than $150 billion spending plan.
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the $40 billion extender will allow government workers to be paid while lawmakers continue to wrangle out agreements, including on an effort to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.
“We should be mindful that this extender, which does keep our government running … is really again for all of us a signal for the growing dysfunction here in Albany,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Others who voted against the measure held firm to declarations made by Democratic leadership that members would not sign off on any budget item without the juvenile justice reforms. Some also criticized Cuomo for continuing the long tradition of backroom negotiations, or of not including legislative pay in the extender.
Cuomo said Sunday night that he is unwilling to accept lesser versions of key budget proposals including raising the age and measures to boost affordable housing.
“Raise the Age and affordable housing are especially controversial politically, but necessary governmentally,” he said in a statement. “I will not accept ‘half a loaf’ on these issues.”
The governor, who is mentioned as a possible contender for the White House in 2020, has cited the likelihood of federal spending cuts as one reason to delay the budget, saying waiting until late May would give the state time to understand how they might impact state finances. Lawmakers from both parties dismissed that as an excuse.
“This guy (Cuomo) should look in the mirror as to why this budget is late,” said Assemblywoman Steve McLaughlin, R-Troy. “He ran his mouth for months about the dysfunction in Washington and this guy cannot get a budget done in time.”
The extender mostly continues current spending levels but does include some new initiatives and $16 billion in new projects, including $2.5 billion in funding to upgrade the state’s aging water infrastructure and funding for economic development and transportation projects.
Cuomo introduced his $152 billion budget proposal in January. The proposal would keep the status quo when it comes to taxes, add $1 billion in new public education spending and include expanded child care tax credits and a new initiative making state college tuition free for students from families earning $125,000 or less annually.