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Some winners in budget, some losers

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Governor Cuomo gave up some items in the newly announced state budget deal, but so did the legislature. Karen DeWitt takes a look at the winners and losers.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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The budget that will be adopted by the legislature is largely unchanged from what the governor initially proposed. That’s partly because some of the more controversial budget items, like pension reform, were settled separately earlier in the month. 
 
Still, some compromises were made. Cuomo had wanted to include health exchanges in the budget, required under the federal health care reform act, but Senate Republicans said they wanted to wait for a ruling by the US Supreme Court on whether the law is constitutional. The court was hearing the case as the budget talks wound down. 
 
As the budget deal neared completion, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said the health exchanges would not be in the final spending plan.
 
“They won’t be part of the budget,” Skelos said.
 
Governor Cuomo, speaking before the final budget agreement, said he’s considering an executive order instead.
 
“I would prefer to do it by legislation,” said Cuomo, who said if not one of the alternative “options” would be an executive order.
 
The governor also conceded on a plan to earmark $250 million out of a promised 4% increase in school aid. He ultimately agreed that just $50 million out of a total of $800 million in additional school aid would be awarded competitively.
 
And Cuomo also modified a controversial proposal that lawmakers feared would permit the governor to move funds around from agency to agency without their permission. The governor’s budget director, Robert Megna, had testified before a legislative hearing that the language was only intended to permit the Cuomo Administration to better coordinate back office information technology. In the end, Cuomo’s office clarified the language, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Skelos say they are now satisfied.
 
“Certainly the role of the legislature has been protected,” said Skelos.  
 
Lawmakers also gave up some provisions that they had sought. Assembly Speaker Silver wanted to raise the state’s minimum wage, but the governor and Senate Republicans objected. Silver now says he will pursue that issue during the remainder of the session. The Senate GOP gave up provisions for some new tax breaks for small businesses.
 
 
The State’s Comptroller, an ally of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, lost his right to pre-audit some state contracts. Cuomo had sought the elimination of the pre-audits, saying they delayed contracts unnecessarily, and the Assembly Democrats ultimately conceded that to the governor. Speaker Silver says the change does not impede the comptroller from conducting the majority of his audits, which occur after contracts are signed.
 
“It was a compromise,” said Silver, who said the comptroller will continue to have “complete audit powers.”
 
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, in a statement, says the elimination of the pre-audits erodes accountability and transparency in government. 
 
Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to set up two new boards that include a number of compromises. One will oversee the distribution of infrastructure projects as part of the New York Works task force. The fifteen member board will be dominated by gubernatorial appointees, but the majority party legislative leaders will each get to appoint two members each to the board. Legislative leaders had sought greater input into the distribution of the projects.
 
The governor will also control a board set up to regulate the expansion of gambling in New York. Cuomo will get five of seven appointees, with the Assembly and Senate allowed one appointment each.
 
If the budget is completed on time, or even early, as legislative leaders are predicting, then lawmakers and the governor will all be winners, demonstrating they can work together and get a spending plan enacted in an orderly manner for two years in a row.
 
But first, they’ll have to pass all of the budget bills that they say they’ve now agreed upon.

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