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Senate, Assembly to release their versions of state budget


The state Senate and Assembly are due to release their own versions of the state budget this week. They come as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is demanding that a number of unrelated provisions be included in the spending plan. Without them, he threatens, the budget could be late.

The governor’s budget director, Robert Mujica, listed in a statement the items that he said must be in the budget in order for Cuomo to agree to it. They include a congestion pricing plan in Manhattan to help pay to fix the subway system, and making the temporary property tax cap permanent.

Cuomo also put in his spending plan the legalization of the adult use of marijuana. He warned that if legalizing cannabis is not part of the budget, it likely will not happen at all this year. Cuomo spoke March 4 on Albany public radio station WAMC.

"If they don’t get marijuana done in the budget, you’re going to see real trouble on it," Cuomo said. "And they’re making a mistake."

There are also proposals in the governor’s budget that are not directly related to fiscal policy, such as reforming the state’s bail system to end cash bail. Cuomo in recent years has increasingly put non-related policy items into his spending plan, arguing he has more leverage to get them passed as part of the budget.

The governor’s requirements come at a time when the state’s finances are tightening. Cuomo’s budget office said there’s a $2.6 billion deficit, based on lowered tax collections in December and January. And the state comptroller has determined there is just an additional $190 million available than what the governor has said the state has to spend.

Legislative leaders, who are due to release their own spending plans, were noncommittal about whether they will recommend spending more than the comptroller’s recommendations.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his house will certainly try to live within the comptroller’s constraints.

"We’re going to have to do our best to work within the framework that the comptroller put out," Heastie said.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the Senate can "live" with the comptroller’s numbers. She said they are not that far off from what the Senate was ready to agree to before the negotiations with the governor ended unsuccessfully.

"We can certainly work with it," Stewart-Cousins said. "We are trying to be fiscally responsible."

Stewart-Cousins said she wants to reach agreement with the Assembly and governor on criminal justice issues, such as bail reform. But she did not say the deal has to come as part of the budget.

"There isn’t a holdup; we just want to make sure we do it right," she said. "These things have been wrong for a very, very long time."

Stewart-Cousins said it’s the first time Democrats have held the majority in both houses of the Legislature in a decade. And she said some items long supported by Democrats were never fully vetted. Those include changing the state’s discovery laws to allow defendants more access to evidence held by the prosecution. 

Heastie said earlier in the year that he thought the issue of legalizing marijuana for adults should not be in the budget. He said it would be better to work it out afterward, when there’s more time to decide the details.

But Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said they’d like to use some of the revenues generated to help fix mass transit. Because of that, Heastie said he would leave the door open to approving legalization earlier.

"We want to make sure we get a marijuana law that’s correct and right," Heastie said on March 4. "At this point, I’m not giving up."

On Friday, Heastie hardened his stance. He said that the Assembly version of the budget will include very few unrelated policy items, and will stick to fiscal matters instead. And he said he doesn’t think the governor needs to "draw lines in the sand" on linking the other proposals to the budget.

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