NY lawmakers criticized for budget votes at night (update)
ALBANY – Good-government groups slammed New York’s Legislature on Wednesday for what one senator called “vampire” voting – dead-of-night votes to revive taxes that were supposed to die – to build much of the new $135 billion budget.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders praised their work, a third straight on-time budget, after decades of being late. They say the budget doesn’t increase taxes, holds the spending increase under 2 percent and proves state government is functioning well.
The Assembly returns to Albany on Thursday from a Passover break to begin final legislative approval of the budget. They will try to finish by sunset but could have to work into Friday. The Senate is finished after debating billions of dollars in public spending during a session that lasted until 4 a.m. Wednesday.
The late-week rush for passage was forced by closed-door talks that bogged down, dashing the projected passage on March 21 and tangling up voting with the religious holidays. The budget is due Sunday night.
Accountability groups criticized the frenzied push to get a deal done, even if it meant a rare Sunday Senate session and Tuesday’s all-nighter.
“When the budget was late, it was always, ‘Let’s take the time to get it right,'” said Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union good-government group. “Now it’s, ‘Let’s not take the time to get it right, but let’s get it done on time.’ New Yorkers deserve to have both.”
Dadey said Cuomo and lawmakers skirted the 2007 budget reform law that required far greater and more open participation by rank-and-file lawmakers in public joint conference committees. The League of Women Voters has also criticized the continued secrecy in budgeting.
Dadey noted major elements were only revealed in news reports in recent days, including the extension of a $2 billion income tax increase aimed at millionaires once opposed by leaders as a job killer and a tax credit to employers to subsidize a minimum wage increase.
“It’s still planet Albany,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College in New York City. He said there continues to be a problematic process, even if the product is better than under past governors. “We have a new supreme numero uno, but it’s still Albany. So you continue to have this process of dysfunction.”
The leaders, however, declared total victory.
“In a state once synonymous with late budgets and partisan bickering, this is a tremendous accomplishment,” stated the two leaders of the Senate’s bipartisan majority, Republican leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein. “The Senate took a good budget proposed by Governor Cuomo and made it better,” the senators said in a joint statement Wednesday.
Cuomo defended the hectic schedule, saying senators legitimately wanted to get to their families and vacations for the holidays. He praised the budget for keeping spending under 2 percent for the third year while addressing a $1 billion budget deficit and providing tax breaks as well as a higher minimum wage.
“These three years in a row getting the budget done on time … is irrefutable proof that government is working,” Cuomo said on public radio’s “The Capitol Pressroom.”
Hours before on the Senate floor, some of Cuomo’s fellow Democrats disputed the governor’s claim.
Sen. Terry Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat, said they were voting on “vampire bills,” which apparently are only alive at night to be voted on. He tweeted a warning to colleagues to beware the rising sun.
Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn decried “bullying” of the Legislature by Cuomo. He also complained he wasn’t brought into discussions on the critical issue of helping the struggling Downstate Medical Hospital in Brooklyn.
“There is no collaborative process,” Parker said. “And then you talk about how great government is working.”