Friday, March 29, 2013

On-TIme Budget, But Still Flawed Process

The budget is done. The legislature is gone nearly a week later then they had anticipated; they have padded themselves on the back and crowed about the third on time budget in thirty years. What they left behind was a budget process in shambles. There were no open leaders' meetings. This year they were 4 men in a room instead of the usually three men in a room and old Albany, of budgets done behind closed doors, appears to be back. The joint conference committee process which began in 1998 with promise seems now to be strictly when it occurs, mostly for show. The subcommittees with their available appropriations were convened late in the process with so little money and didn’t ever convene to report their work. Yes, the governor issued no “messages of necessity” which did allow for the three day aging of budget bills but the Senate debated those budget bills almost entirely in the middle of the night. The assembly did debate all of its budget bills in 13 hours during a 13 hour marathon ending last night Thursday at midnight. What nobody mentions is the precedent that former Governor Patterson established that, if a budget is not done by the April 1st deadline, the executive just substitutes the entire budget in an extender and legislators either accept that entire budget or shut down government. It would appear that there may never be another late New York State budget.

There were a number of issues that were debated in both the Senate and the Assembly including minimum wage, the cuts to non-profits that provide services to the developmentally disabled, the lack of inclusion in the budget of the Dream Act, and “adjustments” to the NY SAFE Act. By far the most passion debate was a bipartisan angst over the cuts to the developmentally disabled budget. There is some talk of finding ways to recoup more of the cuts to that area. It appears the governor has avoided opening up the NY SAFE ACT by tweaking the bill in the budget.

The Legislature will now be out of Albany and back in their districts for the next two weeks. The rest of the legislative session will deal with issues like campaign refinance reform, election reform, the women’s equality agenda, legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, addressing the “Stop and Frisk” issue and legalizing Mixed Martial Arts. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Budget Passage

The last several weeks has been all budget all the time at the Capitol.  Most people thought this budget would be a no drama budget mostly because there was not a lot of money to fight over and the Governor (Executive) has most of the power thanks to his predecessor former Governor David Paterson.  Following a lawsuit during the last year Mr. Paterson was in office, a Governor now can just wait out the legislature until after the beginning of the fiscal year, put his entire Executive budget into an extender and then dare the Legislature to shut down government.  It kind of gives the Governor a lot of leverage with the Legislature and "encourages" them to deal and get a budget done.  Subsequently we have had three straight budgets on time, makes them all look positively functional.

As far as the budget process itself, it was feeble to non-existent.  They had one "mother ship" conference committee and a series of subcommittees which had no table targets so lasted only minutes.  An all leaders’ meeting was done behind closed doors with four men in a room this year. Yes, we have an early budget but that's about the best you can say about it.  Up until eight o'clock Wednesday night, several issues not related to the budget were holding up the budget getting printed so leaders finally decided to push them aside and just get the budget printed and debated before the religious holidays begin and their vacations start.  

 What we know about what's in the budget:
  • We know there will be a minimum wage phased in over two years up to $9.00 by the end of 2015.  
  • We know that NYC and a few other districts upstate will to get their state aid ($240 million for the city because they did not meet the teacher evaluation deadline).  
  • We also know that education funds will go to those districts in a different way to make up for those losses.  
  • We also know that legalization of small amounts of marijuana will not be in this budget (we think) and that the "adjustments" of the SAFE act also will not be in the budget.
  • We know that the $120 million cut to the agency which deals with the developmentally disabled will be somewhat restored but we don't know by how much. 
  • We also know that this budget will get debated without a message of necessity but will be debated most likely in an all night session on Saturday and maybe Sunday so stay tuned.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NY Women's Equality Coalition Launch, Budget March Madness

Lots of excitement this week in women’s equality –
The New York Women’s Equality Coalition officially launched our campaign with a press conference on Monday at the start of Women’s History Month.  Our own Barbara Bartoletti was one of the many amazing speakers at the conference speaking on the need for New York to continue its history of being a leader in the fight for women’s equality.  The press conference highlighted all ten points of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda, from pay equity to reproductive health to stopping human trafficking, and beyond.  Of course, questions from the press focused almost entirely on the reproductive health portion of the agenda, as was expected.  However, Barbara and the other speakers skillfully drove home that this is a much broader agenda, aimed at breaking down multiple barriers for women across many essential areas life.   
After the press conference, the governor invited the coalition to meet with him and his senior staff to celebrate the official kickoff of the campaign.  We also got a tour, led by the governor, of the new Women’s Equality exhibit in the War Room – definitely go check it out if you get a chance!  Also check out the New York Women’s Equality Coaltion website, facebook page, and twitter feed to stay up to date on the most recent news out of the coalition!  And visit LWVNY’s facebook page to see photos of the press conference and the tour!  League members will be hearing from us very soon about how you can help get the Women’s Equality Agenda passed this session!
Other happenings this week –
Budget season is nearing its end, which means its March madness here in Albany.  The halls of the legislature were completely clogged this week, as organizations and constituents came to lobby for funding/against cuts.  Tuesday the capitol and LOB were filled with SUNY students, school aid advocates, immigrant rights advocates, transportation advocates, public employees, and farm interests and business groups.   The capitol deli was so crowded that people were eating in the hallway outside of it.  A rally for school aid organized by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) included a parade down Washington Avenue, led by the Cohoes High School marching band.  The AQE rally highlighted the plight of schools beginning to really feel the impact of the property tax cap.  Wednesday saw lobbying visits from the American Cancer Society and AARP, amongst others.  All the budget chaos will culminate next week when once-house budget bills are voted on and the legislature then moves into joint budget conference committees.  The budget is expected to be acted on the week following that.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Short Week, Big Crowd

 This week in Albany started very slowly thanks to nasty weather and then the gun advocates came to Albany. On Thursday, 6,500 NRA and other gun rights advocates converged on the Capitol, stopping traffic, stalling security lines for well over an hour, and demanding that Governor Coumo be impeached. This is the third such rally in Albany, each bigger than the last. The NYSAFE law is headed to court, with three lawsuits already filed. Nobody in Albany thinks we have seen the last of these rallies.

The budget hearings are now complete and we will soon see the Assembly and Senate one house bills, after which the joint conference committees will begin. The League will monitor the budget, especially the education and health appropriations. We will also be there for the joint conference committees to monitor how open and transparent they are.

The New York Women's Equality Coalition is underway and you will hear much about this in the coming weeks. The League is on the steering committee and we will be providing information to Local Leagues in the Legislative packet as well as action alerts over the next several weeks. This Coalition has 450 organizations (and building) including a very broad array of women's, business, religious, civic, and people of color organizations. The kick-off to the Coalition is next week so stay tuned for much more.