This was the week that we didn’t think would ever end and as of Friday afternoon (right now 2:58 pm) the Assembly is STILL in session only now taking up the education, labor, housing, and family assistance budget bill. The Senate, following a grueling all night session, adjourned at 9:37 am today. One has to feel disheartened that legislators had to endure no sleep and an inability to read what the Governor called “a remarkable budget” and “the best plan produced in decades”. This budget process has been the most secretive process in several years. At one point, negotiations were taken off the Capitol Campus to the Governor’s private residence where it is impossible for reporters to go.
Monday started with several press events including a press conference outside the Senate where the good government community discussed the lack of ethics and transparency in the budget, including lump sum discretionary funds. After our press conference we taped a segment with Susan Arbetter and the local television stations. In the afternoon we pulled Assembly members off the floor reinforcing our opposition to the Education Tax Credit and support for increasing Foundation Aid. Late afternoon, early evening was spent exchanging intel with coalition members for any leaks of information from the second floor (the Governor’s office).
Tuesday rumors circulated that the Senate was planning to trade minimum wage for the Education Investment Tax Credit. The League quickly issued a memo restating our opposition to the EITC and asking that members stay strong in their opposition. That ended a long day and long evening.
On Wednesday we went up to the Capitol late in the day, amid rumors that the charter school increases were now attached to minimum wage by the Senate and the Governor’s office. Does anyone see a theme here? We sent some time speaking with the Education Chair and other legislators to again reiterate our support for public education.
Much of Thursday was spent waiting for the republican Senate conference to end and the budget debate to actually start. The Assembly took up bills unrelated to the budget while waiting for final negotiations to be hammered out. The Senate finally began debating budget bills at 4:30 pm. The debate started contentiously with Senator Gianaris and Senator Young raising their voices. Senator Gianaris was particularly disturbed and vocal about the lack of transparency and the fact that bills would be debated without any opportunity to first read the language. The same complaints were being echoed by the Assembly republicans during their debates.
Thursday night debate of the budget dragged on in the Assembly until approximately 2:00 am when they stood at ease so the legislators could actually read the budget bills on their computer. The Assembly came back in at 2:50pm to continue their debates. The interesting thing to note is that the Assembly democrats do not debate these budget bills. The Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Denny Farrell, stands on his feet throughout the debate to answer the questions of the Assembly minority. The debate is all one sided for a reason, because the Assembly is so large if every democrat in the majority rose to debate, the session would go on endlessly so democrats are told to rise to explains their votes only when absolutely necessary.
Although this has been a secretive process, which we have repeatedly criticized for a lack of transparency, and insufficient time for legislators to thoroughly review budget language, the League and our allies were successful during this process in preventing the EITC from being included in the final budget. We were also pleased to see the legislature pass the Governor’s minimum wage and paid family leave proposals, both of which we supported. We continue to be disappointed with the lack of process on comprehensive ethics reforms and we will continue to advocate post budget for these common sense reforms.