This was budget week in Albany and for the first time in five years the New York State budget came in right on time. Monday the Legislature came into session and spent much of the day in their respective conferences negotiating with their own conferences the final details of the tentative handshake agreement that was reached over the weekend by the “three men in a room.” At 4 p.m. the General Conference Committee, received the last of the sub-committee reports on Higher Education, Education, Economic Development, Human Services and Transportation. The one committee that did not report was the Health Committee because final negotiation points had not yet been reached. The legislative houses did go to Joint Conference Committees, but because there was so little money for the sub-committees to negotiate, their role was quite perfunctory. Following the General Conference Committee meeting most lobbyist felt that was the end of the day, only to find out at 6 p.m. that the Republican majority in the state Senate was pushing through changes to the Senate Rules. According to the Democrats in the Senate there had been no 48 hour prior notice which is required for the change of the rules in that chamber. The rules changes went through the Rules Committee where there was a spirited debate (loud vocal complaints) by the Democrats to no avail. By the time, I arrived back at the Capitol to watch the debate; I discovered at 8 p.m. that night that the Capitol was locked! The Senate however, was in full debate in Session. Under current law, one entrance to the Capitol must be open when the Legislature is in session. Following a call to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, I was allowed into the building and then into the Gallery. As you can imagine, since no one could get in the building, I was the only person in the two galleries. Acrimonious debate was going on the floor of the Senate. The debate lasted until about 9 p.m. and the new rules were pushed through with three of the four independent caucus members voting with the Republicans.
Wednesday was a hectic day of protests and budget bills passing at lightning speed. Through the decades that I have lobbied in the Legislature, this was one of the most raucous and most boisterous of protests here at the Capitol. Approximately 2000 people occupied the interior of the Capitol, the stairwells, the million dollar staircase and the 2-4th floors. Shortly after the buses began to arrive at 1 p.m. the Sergeant at Arms shut down the lobby outside the Senate Chamber and one of the two galleries overlooking the Senate floor. The Assembly shut down both of their galleries and I spent the remainder of the afternoon negotiating with the Assembly to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
The budget bills were finally passed in the Senate by midnight and in the Assembly by 1 a.m. Governor Cuomo said in his State of the State message that he wanted an on time budget and that he wanted cuts to education and health care—he got all three. His popularity among NYS voters remains high; he was definitely the winner in this budget.