This week was an extremely busy week not only for state legislators but also for the League. This was the League’s 12th annual Students Inside Albany conference here in Albany. For those 37 Leagues that sent students, you picked well this year; they were an extremely dynamic, bright - really good group of kids. Hopefully your local communities will benefit from the experience the League was able to give them for the three days they were here in Albany. While they were here they had an opportunity to watch the budget agreements, kind of, sort of, play out in only the way Albany can.
While our students were getting to know each other on Sunday evening the leadership in the Legislature was negotiating the last two sticking points in the 2012-2013 state budget. Those two issues being education and health. In the education budget, the sticking point dealt with the governor who had proposed $250 million in competitive grants statewide and the legislature who wanted that money to go to the high needs districts. After many days of negotiations, the legislature won this one. The governor ended up getting $50 million and the legislature put $200 million back into high needs districts. As many League members may remember, in last year’s budget the governor had agreed to add 4% more in education money to this year’s budget; on top of that, the executive budget appropriated a total of $805 million to this year’s education budget.
The major controversy in the health care budget concerned the creation of a Healthcare Exchange. The Senate Republicans staunchly refused to go along with the Healthcare Exchange in the fear that they will be accused of supporting “Obamacare”. With the Supreme Court debating the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act this very week, the Senate Republicans said they wanted to wait and see if this continued to be the law of the land. Governor Cuomo is expected to issue an executive order, as this update is being written, that will create the Healthcare Exchange in a state agency. The advocates had wanted the healthcare exchange to go into its own public authority, however, the governor only has jurisdiction over the state agencies. This means that New York State can access the federal dollars which would otherwise be lost to the state without these healthcare exchanges. If the Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act, then it is possible that later this year the governor can go back and ask for new legislation.
The process this week around the budget is playing out differently than the process two weeks ago when we did the “Big Ugly”. As you recall, the Big Ugly comprised the redistricting lines, constitutional amendment on structural reform for redistricting, pension reform Tier 6, DNA database, and the constitutional amendment on gambling. Except for the district lines and the constitutional amendment, the legislation was presented with a message of necessity and importantly in the middle of the night. The governor and the legislature were severely criticized for the process and so it was decided by the governor and the leadership in the legislature that the budget would be done during the day and only after they had been on the desks of legislators for the required three days. This budget is also expected to be passed two days before the start of the new fiscal year. This is important because it allows this governor and the Republican majority in Senate to be able to say that Albany is no longer dysfunctional and that the gears of government are functioning smoothly.
It is expected that the legislature will be out of Albany for most of April and speculation has already begun on what remains to be done in the 2 months left in Session. Stay tuned for the answer to that question…