State budget negotiations in New York formally began Tuesday as the state Senate and Assembly each put out their modifications to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive proposal from January, signaling that discussions on a final spending plan will now escalate.
Both the Senate and Assembly are expected Wednesday to pass their one-house budget resolutions, which are largely ceremonial gestures to express where each chamber of the Legislature stands in terms of budget talks.
The Assembly broke with Cuomo’s budget proposal by stripping it almost completely of policy, including criminal justice reform, while modifying it in other areas. The Senate also kicked criminal justice reform out of its one-house budget proposal, replacing the section instead with a commitment to continue negotiating the issue.
“The Senate rejects the Executive proposal to establish various pretrial criminal justice reforms,” the resolution said. “The Senate is strongly committed to passing a comprehensive package that includes cashless bail, discovery reform, and speedy trials into law.”
An increase of the two-year attorney registration fee proposed by Cuomo from $375 to $425 was also absent from both the Senate and Assembly one-house proposals. The fee increase, which is opposed by the New York State Bar Association, was supposed to be earmarked to fund indigent legal services.
Cuomo has tried to make headway with lawmakers in recent weeks on including changes to the state’s laws on cash bail, criminal discovery, and the right to a speedy trial in this year’s state budget, which is due at the end of March. Members of the Assembly, who have been working to negotiate a deal on those reforms, have said they’re open to passing them outside the spending plan.
Lawmakers have said they’re down to the final details on reforming, and likely ending, the state’s cash bail system. But Cuomo claimed during a press conference Monday that lawmakers still have a “wide divide” on criminal justice issues.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, rejected that characterization of negotiations during a conversation with reporters Tuesday.
“I would not say there’s a large space between, and like I said, I believe the commitment is there,” Heastie said.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, said Democrats in her chamber were still in discussions on criminal justice reform in hopes of striking an agreement soon. Some lawmakers in the chamber have said legislation could be introduced and passed outside the budget at some point in the next three weeks.
“In terms of criminal justice, we’re working hard because we understand how important it is that we do the right thing and we reform the criminal justice system,” Stewart-Cousins said. “So, as far as I’m concerned, we’re moving and we’re trying to come to a space where we can pass these things, certainly criminal justice reform and marijuana, we’re still talking.”
When asked why she thought Cuomo publicly contradicted their view of progress on the issue, Stewart-Cousins offered a diagnosis.
“I often wonder, I’m thinking it’s SDDS: Senate Democratic Derangement Syndrome at this point,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I don’t understand what the problem is. He seems to be looking at our conference differently.”
Cuomo and Democrats in the state Senate have clashed in recent months as members of the conference ramped up opposition to a state incentive package that would have brought part of Amazon’s second headquarters to Queens. Cuomo, who helped arrange the deal with Amazon, has lambasted Democrats in the chamber for their opposition and blamed them for the company ultimately deciding to pull out of the project.
He penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Monday repeating that he would not approve a state budget this year without criminal justice reform, which lawmakers have said they’re willing to do whenever they have the legislation ready.
“In New York, we believe in a more just society, and we know what we must do to achieve it,” Cuomo wrote. “That’s why this year I will not sign a budget without criminal justice reform. Failing to take action would be criminal.”
Republicans in the state Senate have urged Democrats in the majority to hit the brakes on criminal justice reform and consider the views of law enforcement officials who are opposed to the reforms in their current form.
Lawmakers will now meet with Cuomo behind closed doors to negotiate a final budget plan, which is due at the end of March. Legislation to enact the budget often isn’t introduced until hours before it’s passed, though Democrats, who now hold a majority in the Senate this year, have criticized that practice in the past.