Legislature on track to finish budget this week

Mar 26, 2013

The state budget is on track to be finished on time, and before the March 31 deadline, now that all of the spending bills were finally printed shortly before midnight on Monday.

Lawmakers plan to vote on the final budget bills later in the week, after they finally agreed to and printed all of the remaining pieces of legislation late Sunday, four days after they had announced that they’d reached a deal.

The Assembly is not scheduled to return until Thursday, but the state Senate met Sunday night to begin passing portions of the budget.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco says now that the bills are finally finished, it should be easy for the Senate, at least, to complete the budget on time.

“We have plenty of time,” he said. “And we only have six (bills) left.”

Some of the final pieces include the revenue portion of the budget. It contains a three-year phase-in of the minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2016, and rebate checks of $350 for every family with a child under the age of 18 and earning between $40,000 and $300,000 a year. It also includes a multi-year extension of an extra tax on millionaires and a one-year extension of a surcharge on utilities, which is passed on to businesses and residential customers.

Some of the senators say they regret that they were unable to win full restoration of $120 million in cuts to services for the developmentally disabled. Sen. David Carlucci is the chairman of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. He says half of the money will be put back in the budget.

“I’m happy that we are able to restore that funding,” Carlucci said. “I would have liked to have seen more.”

New York lost the money after the federal government determined that the state had been over billing the federal Medicaid system for its centers for the disabled. Sen. Chuck Schumer was able to win back some other Medicaid funds, but they can’t necessarily be used to replace the money lost to the service providers.   

Michael Carey, whose son Jonathon died while in the care of a state-run center for the developmentally disabled, is disappointed.

“Half isn’t enough,” Carey said. He says at least $150 million more is needed to beef up security at the centers to protect the patients.  And he blames Gov. Andrew Cuomo for pushing for the cuts.

Cuomo has said that more money is not always the answer, and he expects service providers to cut administrative costs, not services to the disabled.

The governor and legislature failed to agree on an amendment to fix a problem in the state’s new gun control law.  In recent weeks, lawmakers found there was a loophole in the ban on 10-bullet magazines. While the new law would limit the maximum number of bullets to seven, 10-bullet magazine clips are still permitted at shooting ranges and in competitions.

Because they could not agree on how to change the provision, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says that part of the law, which was to have taken effect April 15, will be put off.

“The bill will have an indefinite postponement of the issue concerning the clips,” Skelos said.

DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, says he would have liked to have seen the gun control law, known as the NY SAFE Act, repealed altogether, “which I personally believe was a horrible act,” he said. “It’s not going to make anybody any safer.”

But he concedes that’s unlikely to happen, since Cuomo and Democrats in the Assembly and Senate continue to back the gun control law.  

The Senate’s current plan is to stay well into the night Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning, passing the budget bills as soon as they reach the three day waiting point at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.  The Assembly plans to work all day Thursday to finish up.