Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Joint Conference Committee Sessions Have Begun!

What a whirl wind week! Monday the Joint Budget Conference committees met to lay out their respective priorities. We were not surprised to find out the Joint Committees had not received their table target budget amounts. The Joint Leader’s Conference met fist. Senator Flanagan kicked off the committee, emphasizing the Senate's desire to spur job creation, transportation infrastructure, college affordability, the creation of a clean water bond act, and workers compensation. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reaffirmed the Assembly's commitment to Raise the Age and funding of Foundation Aid. Senator Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference was allowed to speak before Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, he laid out the IDC's budget plan emphasizing the IDC's commitment to seeing Raise the Age pass during this budget process. The Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb spoke next about the minority's concerns over the STAR rebate program and the oversight of the Regional Economic Development Corporation. When Senator Stewart-Cousins was finally allowed to speak she started off with her disappointment that the Senate Democrats were not permitted to have their budget considered by the Senate. She said the IDC's Raise the Age proposal was inaccurate and that the Senate needed a greater focus on school funding. 

The Joint Committees broke out into three meeting rooms, each presented for an average of 15 minutes with much of that time being spent on members saying what aspects of the budget were most important to them. The League sat in on several committees including health, environmental conservation, transportation, public protection, and education. We were pleased to see that the Education Committee reaffirmed their commitment to a full phase in of Foundation Aid. The bipartisan committee also agreed that they needed to take additional steps to help with the recent influx of English as a second language students in both New York City and Upstate. The two houses did not agree on Mayoral Control. 

The League and its good government allies fought tirelessly to make sure that budget negotiations are open to the public. New York State law now mandates that these budget conferences meet in public and allow citizens to see how deals are being made. Unfortunately, these conference sessions have become political theater and much of the budget negotiations will be done behind closed doors. We do not anticipate any other joint conference meetings. 

On Thursday the legislature was hit by another federal indictments. Senator Robert Ortt and former Senator George Miziarz were accused of filing a false instrument by Attorney General Eric Schniederman. Ortt is accused of giving his wife a no-show job when he was Mayor of North Tonawanda. Miziarz's case is somewhat more complicated and involves a staffer accused of sexual harassment that was paid by the county GOP committee even after he had stepped down from his position. The payments had been concealed to avoid scrutiny. The legislature and Governor continue to blatantly ignore the obvious problem of corruption plaguing Albany. While we hope that the legislature will add stronger ethics reforms to the final budget proposal, there has been little attention paid to the issue.

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