ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Budget talks are stalled shortly before a self-imposed deadline of March 30 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature. Meanwhile, groups left out of the deal expressed their dismay.
Calling themselves the “coalition of the shafted,” the groups – including advocates for access to birth control, bail reform and better voter access – stood on the “Million Dollar Staircase” to criticize the direction of the budget talks.
Reverend Jim Ketcham, a Baptist minister who is on the New York State Council of Churches executive board, called the budget so far “obscene and immoral” for not increasing funding for the needy and not including proposals by the governor and the Democratic-led Assembly to increase taxes on the rich.
“I want to borrow a phrase from the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (High School),” he said, referring to the Parkland, Florida, students who witnessed the mass school shooting on Feb. 14.
“I call BS,” Ketcham said. “And that doesn’t mean bible study.”
Kat Sullivan, who said she was a victim of sexual assault by a teacher when she was a teenager, took a cue from the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She has paid for roadway signs advocating that the Legislature agree to the Child Victims Act. It would open up access to the courts for victims to go after their alleged abusers.
“I’m disappointed, yet again, that Albany politicians have put the needs of special interests, like insurance companies, above the needs of the people,” Sullivan said. “Above the needs of children.”
Susan Lerner with Common Cause decried the lack of an early voting program, which was proposed by the governor in the budget.
“We have a message,” Lerner said. “Even with the barriers, we will vote. We will make you accountable.”
Cuomo, speaking in a noisy hallway in the Capitol complex, confirmed that voting reforms he has proposed, including early voting, will not be in the budget.
Senate Leader John Flanagan already has said that bail reform will be dropped from the spending plan.
And the fate of the Child Victims Act is highly uncertain.
Cuomo said a sexual harassment policy is still being hashed out, and a surcharge on ride-hailing services in Manhattan south of 96th Street is also likely to be included to help pay for repairs to the subway system.
And, the governor said, a pay raise for the governor, his staff and state lawmakers is in the works, in the form of a pay commission that would decide whether they should receive a salary increase for the first time in nearly 20 years.
“I desperately need a pay raise for the employees in the executive chambers,” Cuomo said. “We’re trying to get quality people into state government, and frankly, we are wholly noncompetitive.”
A previous pay commission ended without a recommendation after Cuomo and the Legislature bickered over the panels’ methods.
Lerner said her group supports a pay raise – but with conditions, such as becoming a full-time Legislature and forgoing all outside pay.
“But it’s very hard to argue for that when we see the kind of self-serving conduct that’s happening around this budget,” she said.
Cuomo did not rule out passing budget extenders if there is no final deal before the Passover and Easter holidays begin on Friday. But he said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there will be agreement before then.