State budget likely to be late as Albany lawmakers get ready to blow past April 1 deadline

Redistricting-New York
FILE – The New York state Senate meets in the Senate Chamber on the opening day of the legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Jan. 8, 2020.
(AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins indicated Wednesday that state legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul are once again likely to blow past their April 1 deadline to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The majority leader, during a Wednesday morning news conference, said budget negotiations are in the “middle of the middle” and that she is sending members of her conference home for the upcoming Easter holiday weekend, making it unlikely that a deal will be reached by Monday morning. If the budget is indeed late this year, it would mark the third year running that state legislators and the governor have failed to meet the April 1 deadline.

She also noted that Albany legislators are planning to pass an extender bill on Tuesday, which would elongate the current fiscal year budget for an extra week. The legislation keeps the state government funded and public employees paid, while Albany’s leaders hash out the late spending plan.

Hochul, on Wednesday evening, announced that she will ask the legislature to extend the budget deadline to April 4.

“While I believe a final agreement is within reach, I recognize many New Yorkers would like to spend the holiday weekend with family and loved ones,” the governor said, in a statement. “For that reason, I will be delivering a bill to the Legislature to temporarily extend the budget deadline until April 4th.”

Nevertheless, Stewart-Cousins echoed her Assembly counterpart Speaker Carl Heastie’s sentiments that the budget would be passed, who expressed during a Tuesday press conference that things are moving in the right direction this time around. The mood is different from last year when budget talks were extended for weeks past the deadline.

“As the speaker said yesterday, we are all, he said, ‘on the same planet,’ which is good,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And we will continue trying to get to the end as quickly as we can.”

Another sign of progress, the majority leader said, is that both chambers plan to pass their first budget bills this week related to state debt service.

One of the central items that still needs to be hashed out is a housing deal, which Albany leaders were unable to agree on last year.

The governor has staked out building more housing as her chief priority, with a plan to invest $500 million in construction of up to 15,000 units on unused state-owned land. The Senate put forward its own plan to boost housing supply in the form of a new public benefit corporation that would also utilize state-owned land and include a $250 million funding pot to build affordable units.

While Hochul has indicated she is open to some form of tenant protections, it may not be the “Good Cause Eviction” — which caps rents and limit landlords’ ability to evict tenants — legislation sought by left-leaning pols and advocates. The upper chamber has indicated it wants protections that align with the “principles of” Good Cause, but the Assembly has not signaled support for the proposal.

Heastie told reporters on Tuesday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about inking some kind of housing deal. But the speaker warned vested interests on both the tenant and real estate sides that the agreement is unlikely to please everyone.

“I think everybody has to understand, you’re not going to get everything that you want in this housing deal,” Heastie said. “I feel like people are getting to that place. I think everybody’s under the understanding that you can’t always get everything you want.”

Another item potentially holding up a deal was Hochul’s budget proposal to change the public school funding formula — known as “Foundation Aid.” The proposed change is estimated to reduce the school funding pot by $420 million compared to what was anticipated by local school districts. 

The change will reportedly lead to $131 million less than what was expected for New York City, which gets over a third of its public school funding from the state.

Both houses of the legislature rejected that proposal in their budget plans. Instead, they proposed to keep the school funding formula the same as last year, while launching a study on how to improve the funding model going forward.

Part of the issue, Stewart-Cousins said, is that school districts around the state based their plans for the coming school year under the assumption that they would be receiving more funding under the old model.

However, the majority leader expressed confidence that talks about both the funding formula for the coming year and the longer-term study are headed in a positive direction.

“We’re just talking about how to move forward, how to again, contemporize the school formula, school needs, rather than just take one piece and decide that’s no longer relevant, let’s look at the whole thing,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I think that there is a productive conservation about doing that and again nobody’s drawing a line in the sand that they won’t do this.”