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Budget is stalled, days before the deadline

Karen DeWitt

Budget talks are stalled one day before a self-imposed deadline of March 30th by Governor Cuomo and the state legislature. Meanwhile, groups left out of the detail expressed their dismay.

Calling themselves the “coalition of the shafted”,  the groups ,including advocates for access to birth control,  bail reform and better voter access stood on the million dollar staircase to criticize the direction of the budget talks.

Reverend Jim Ketcham a Baptist Minister is on the New York State Council of Churches executive board, called the budget so far “obscene and immoral”, for not including proposals  by the governor and the Democratic led Assembly to increase taxes on the rich,  while at the same time not increasing funding for the needy.

“I want to borrow a phrase from the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (High school),” he said, referring to the Parkland Florida students who witnessed the school shooting on February 14th.

“I call BS,” Reverend Ketcham said. “And that doesn’t mean bible study.”

Kat Sullivan, a victim of sexual assault by her teacher as a teenager, took a cue from the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. She has paid for roadway signs advocating that the legislature agree to the Child Victims Act. It would open up access to the courts for victims to go after their alleged abusers.

“I’m disappointed, yet again, that Albany politicians have put the needs of special interests, like insurance companies above the needs of the people ,” Sullivan said. “Above the needs of children.”

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause decried the lack of an early voting program, which was  proposed by the governor in the budget.

“We have a message,” Lerner said. “Even with the barriers we will vote. We will make you accountable.”

Governor Cuomo, speaking in a noisy hallway in the Capitol complex, confirmed that voting reforms he has proposed, including early voting, will not be in the budget.

The Senate leader, John Flanagan, has already said that bail reform will be dropped from the spending plan.

And the fate of the Child Victims Act is highly uncertain.

Cuomo  says a compressive sexual harassment policy is still being hashed out, and a surcharge on ride hailing services in Manhattan south of 96th Street is also likely to be included to help pay for repairs to the subway system.

And, the governor says, a pay raise for the governor, his staff and state lawmakers is in the works, in the form of a pay commission that would decide whether they should receive a salary increase for the first time in nearly 20 years.

“I desperately need a pay raise for the employees in the executive chambers,” Cuomo said. “We’re trying to get quality people into state government, and frankly we are wholly noncompetitive.”

A previous pay commission ended without a recommendation, after Cuomo and the legislature bickered over the panels’ methods.

Lerner, with Common Cause, says her group supports a pay raise, but with conditions, like becoming a full time legislature and forgoing all outside pay.

“But it’s very hard to argue for that when we see the kind of self serving conduct that’s happening around this budget,” she said.

Cuomo did not rule out passing budget extenders if there is no final deal before the Passover and Easter holidays begin on Friday. But he says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there will be agreement before then.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.