Lawmakers Lurch Toward A State Budget

ALBANY (AP) — State lawmakers are gearing up for another late night of energy drinks and emergency hotel reservations in an overtime slog to compromise on a five-day-late budget in Albany.

The state Assembly passed its first four budget bills Wednesday afternoon following votes in the Senate a day earlier, but an elusive revenue bill lawmakers say contains several controversial deals has yet to be introduced in either house.

The pace has slowed as lawmakers await the details of school funding increases and a proposal to end the state’s practice of automatically prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17-year-old offenders in adult court.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I’m running out of my medication, can you help?'” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat and a pharmacist.

While his home is nearby, McDonald said the many lawmakers who can’t drive home each night are growing weary, missing their families and running out of clothes. “FaceTime and laundromats are saving the day,” he said.

The budget was due by Saturday, when the state began a new fiscal year. To avert a government shutdown, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a two-month extension of the last budget on Monday.

Lawmakers say despite a new May 31 deadline, they are eager to wrap up negotiations as soon as possible. Under state law, legislative pay will be withheld until lawmakers approve a full budget.

As of Wednesday afternoon, it appeared unlikely the Legislature could give final approval to the $152 billion budget before Thursday at the earliest.

“Sometimes it feels like we get to the five yard line and then we get pushed back a little bit,” said Sen. Rich Funke, a Rochester-area Republican, who said negotiations were down to “a couple” of small issues. “We’re close. We’re very close. We need to get it wrapped up tonight.”

A key sticking point is raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, a proposal known as ‘raise the age’ that Democratic leaders and Cuomo have made a priority this session.

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Democrat, said the issue, which was declared resolved more than a week ago, erupted again late Tuesday evening in arguments about when a juvenile’s records would be sealed and if the Department of Corrections would oversee juvenile detention centers.

Frustrated Senate Democrats say the time constraints and political maneuvers are pushing them further from measures they believe will create real change.

“The latest ‘modified’ raise the age deal makes it clear that we could have and should have done better,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is the consequence of empowering Trump Republicans. Important issues like this get watered down and others like the Dream Act (tuition assistance program for students in the U.S. illegally), protecting Planned Parenthood, ethics and voting reforms are left behind.”

The spending plan is expected to include greater college tuition assistance, an increase of $1 billion for education spending, and $2.5 billion for upgrades to the state’s water infrastructure.

It also would allow Uber and Lyft to expand into upstate cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. The two app-based ride-hailing services are now limited to the New York City area.