President Donald Trump’s administration has stoked concern in the New York State government, and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a budget to address that concern.
But there are a few fights he must settle before that comes to fruition.
Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to a tentative budget Tuesday, but tentative means it’s not certain.
Cuomo said that the state Legislature didn’t have an agreement on all of the bills, but a “conceptual agreement” on some of them. He’s looking to finalize everything after the Easter break. “If we can get it done today, fine,” Cuomo told reporters. “The pressure is really off the situation because effectively the entire function of government was funded.”
New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie isn’t a fan of Cuomo’s approach. Citing that school districts need to know their budget for the following year as soon as possible, Heastie wants Albany to speed up the process.
“I think he’s wrong,” said Heastie to reporters Tuesday. “School districts needs to have certainty as to what the education budgets are. Those are due May 1. So I think we should try and give them as much clarity and time to get their school budgets done. The assembly is here and ready to work. Send the bills.”
But a representative for Cuomo fired back at the Assembly on social media.
“There’s no obligation to get the budget done by Easter,” said Cuomo representative Rich Azzopardi on Twitter. “It was to get it 4/1. They failed. If they were worried about schools, they would’ve gotten it done by April 1.”
Sunday, Cuomo spoke of the nation’s capital forcing New York State’s hand in closing the gap between federal money that could be lost under Trump.
“The looming threats from Washington leave us with two options,” Cuomo stated. “Our state budget must either fully anticipate and address our human and financial needs, or we must keep working to reach compromise on the reform issues and remain financially cautious so we can adapt to federal actions once they are determined,”
Several issues held up the budget. Two of them were the Raise the Age proposal and affordable housing. Cuomo said he wouldn’t accept “half a loaf” on those two subjects and pushed for an extender of the current budget for two more months.
“Given the inability of both houses to reach an agreement, I am sending up an extender of the current budget to keep the government fully functioning until May 31,” said Cuomo at the beginning of the week. “I have spoken to both leaders who have agreed to pass the extender bill by tomorrow afternoon, which is the necessary deadline to keep government fully functioning.”
Cuomo said Raise the Age, affordable housing and education funding still need to be discussed fully, but he is happy that the government is still running.
Monday, both houses of the state Legislature passed a budget extender to avoid a government shutdown. The two-month extender that fully funds the state’s $16.4 billion new construction and economic development plan for the next complete fiscal year, includes $2.5 billion in capital for the clean water infrastructure initiative and $180 million for the Kingsbridge Ice Center in the Bronx.
“From the Buffalo Billion to Whiteface Mountain to Penn Station to the LIRR, our development moves forward,” said Cuomo, in a statement, Monday night. “But make no mistake: we are far from done. We must finish the job and pass a responsible budget that makes college tuition free for the middle class, fully funds our public schools, cuts taxes for the middle class, raises the age of criminal responsibility, combats homelessness and moves New York forward. We will work until we accomplish it all.”
While the governor provides lip service to issues such as Raise the Age and homelessness, Democrats in Albany are pushing for actual policy during the budget extender period. New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie took Senate Republicans to task over accusations that Assembly Democrats were coddling murderers and rapists because of their Raise the Age activism. He said that they simply want to ensure young people accused of non-violent crimes aren’t sent to criminal court.
“We have seen firsthand the devastating consequences of families torn apart and lives cut short by an ineffective policy of throwing children into adult prisons for non-violent crimes,” said Heastie. “Raising the age is not about a ‘free pass.’ Rather, it is about adopting age appropriate alternatives to address these cases. Thoughtful and responsible public policy has been adopted in 48 other states and it is unconscionable that any New Yorker would want to continue this abhorrent practice.”
New York State Senate Democrats see an opening in their ongoing battle with Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference.
Senate Democratic Conference Communications Director Mike Murphy stated that the next two months “provides an opportunity to advance progressive legislation currently blocked by the Senate Majority Coalition.” He added, “The governor’s extender should include the real Raise the Age proposal, a college affordability plan including the DREAM Act, fully fund public education, and create real voting and ethics reforms.”
Murphy, along with other State Democrats, called on the IDC last week to join them in denying a quorum to Senate Republicans until a deal on Raise the Age was made.
Democrats in the Senate to tried to pass Raise the Age two years ago but were shut down by Republicans and the IDC. After the suicide of Kalief Browder, who as a teenager spent three years at Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack but never went to trial, Democrats want the bill passed immediately.
“Now is the time to protect individual rights and ensure justice for all,” stated Cuomo Monday. “Criminal justice reforms have long languished and must be enacted. New York is one of only two states in the nation to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for purposes of criminal responsibility. Draconian punishments for youthful mistakes have ruined the lives of countless young New Yorkers. We must pass Raise the Age once and for all.”
But some Democrats viewed the proposed Raise the Age legislation with suspicion. Cuomo’s plan immediately raises the age of criminal responsibility to 17 with it eventually going to 18 in 2020. Cuomo’s proposal would also raise the age at which young people could be tried as adults (to 16 years old from 13 to 15 years old) if charged with any of an expanded list juvenile offenses that would include all class A felonies, homicides, violent felony offenses, sexually-motivated felonies, felony vehicular assaults and aggravated criminal contempt and conspiracy to commit or tampering with a witness related to any of the aforementioned crimes. The Raise the Age proposal would also expand the number juvenile-eligible offenses for adult court to include terrorist acts and criminal possession and use of biological and chemical weapons and predatory sexual assault.
“Are the Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo really agreeing to raise the age?” asked New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte in an emailed statement. “Or is this merely a smoke-and-mirror tactic to say that as a legislative body we raised the age? Also, why isn’t the Independent Democratic Caucus even at the table bringing about reform as they said they would when they left the Democratic Party? We have fought long and hard, many years, to get this on the table and it is critical that we do this right the first time.”
Some elected officials believed that passing any budget without Raise the Age was a non-starter. New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton voted “no” on Cuomo’s budget extender, citing Raise the Age.
“I will not vote for a budget that does not bring New York in line with compassion and common-sense: children do not belong in prison, children must be treated as children,” said Hamilton in a statement. “Thus I cannot vote in favor of this budget extender.”
Hamilton continued, “New Yorkers need us to pursue a justice system that has the twice blessed quality of mercy—as Shakespeare wrote, “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”—instead of a justice system with too little compassion, too little forgiveness and too little wisdom to see that children should not be treated the same as adults.”
New York State Senator Ruben Diaz also voted against the extender, citing the lack of Raise the Age language in it.
“You should know that I am from the old guard,” stated Diaz. “When we say ‘yes,’ it’s ‘yes.’ When we say ‘no,’ it’s ‘no.’ When we commit ourselves to something, we commit ourselves to something.”
Diaz said he heard the State Assembly and the IDC say they wouldn’t vote on an extender unless it had Raise the Age and are now changing their tune.
“What happened?” asked Diaz. “We don’t pander to anyone. We’re the old guard. We’re not for rent. We’re not for sale. This has to be included in the budget.”
If nothing’s done by this week, Raise the Age advocates would have to wait a little longer for justice.