Speaker pressures Cuomo in budget talks

ALBANY - The fractured state of New York's ongoing budget stalemate was on full display Tuesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders continued negotiations Tuesday toward a roughly $152 billion state budget, a day after they approved a temporary budget "extender" that will stave off a government shutdown through May.

But the divisions among Cuomo and lawmakers were in full public view.

Late Tuesday morning, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, emerged from a negotiating meeting, telling reporters a "substantial agreement" was at hand on two of the budget's major sticking points: Juvenile-justice reform and an affordable-housing credit for New York City builders.

He vowed to begin voting Tuesday afternoon -- if Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, put the agreements into bill form
Less than two hours later, Cuomo told a different version of event, suggesting a final budget deal could easily wait until after Easter.

Cuomo said the budget extender gives him and lawmakers more time to negotiate, in part because billions of dollars in infrastructure and construction projects were funded in it.

"These other issues, we'll deal with and they're important," Cuomo said in Greene County, where he examined the scene of a grounded gasoline barge. "But there's no great rush at this point to get anything done because in people's lives, all the government operations are continuing."

Cuomo and legislative leaders have been at impasse in negotiations for a budget for the state's fiscal year, which began Saturday without a spending plan in place.

Heastie's comments came after a closed-door meeting with Cuomo; Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County; and Senate Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx.

Lawmakers have been pushing for a full budget deal this week, with the Legislature scheduled to begin its 18-day Easter break on Saturday.

There's also personal financial pressure: By law, pay for lawmakers is being withheld until a final budget is in place.

Democrats, including Cuomo, have been pushing for a measure to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, a move that would mean most 16- and 17-year olds would no longer be tried as adults, except in extreme cases like murders.

But Senate Republicans have pushed back, raising myriad concerns over removing those accused of violent crimes or repeat offenders.

The disagreement boiled over Monday, with various Senate Republicans issuing statements essentially accusing Democrats of wanting to coddle juvenile rapists and murderers. Heastie strenuously denied the charge, accusing the GOP of waging an untruthful "fear campaign".

Heastie contended the Senate, Assembly and Cuomo had reached an agreement on the issue Tuesday morning.
He put pressure on Cuomo to put the agreement into legislation, vowing to vote Wednesday or Friday.

"I said to the governor: Send up the bills that we have an agreement on," Heastie said. "We may not have a total agreement on everything that everybody wants, but there’s a substantial agreement. Send up the bills."

 

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