ALBANY (TNS) — With roughly a week left for New York lawmakers to vote on a constitutional change that would give legislators more influence in the state budget process, proponents are urging legislative leaders to convene to get the measure on the ballot next year.
The Legislature last week passed hundreds of bills — from unfinished business leftover from a stunted budget session to additional coronavirus-related protections for New Yorkers — but a bill that would change the state Constitution and shift some budget power away from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo remains untouched.
Having been through eight budgets, Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, said the process is “fundamentally wrong” and a change to allow legislators more say in the budget would benefit everyone.
“This is an issue that transcends any ideology and speaks to a matter of basic fundamental fairness,” he said. “This is really easy, let’s just Zoom in, get the first passage and let’s get it done. The fact of the matter is, if this doesn’t get taken up until next year or after Aug. 3, we don’t lose just one year, we lose two years of a fairer budget process.”
Voters would be asked to approve the change next year on the ballot in November once the Legislature passes it this year and again next year with the new body makeup.
Skoufis was joined by dozens of other legislators and supporters as well as presumptive winners for legislative seats in multiple downstate districts in drumming support for the bill and calling on legislative leaders to convene session and get the bill passed during a virtual news conference Monday via Zoom.
The budget process gives little authority to legislators in making changes to the executive proposal. The amendment would allow for legislators to modify or substitute items in the budget. As it stands, legislators can only add or delete items, or adjust the dollar amount. To get the amendment on the ballot for voter approval next year, legislators must pass the bill 90 days before the general election this year and again next year with the new Legislature.
The need to balance power in the budget process is necessary as New York’s budget often includes policies that have little or nothing to do with the state’s finances. Governors have used it as a tool to push policies and legislation that may not pass the Legislature. This year’s budget, for instance, included legislation that shielded nursing homes and health care facilities from legal liability associated with the pandemic.
“Until the legislature has equal power in the New York state budget process, we’re never going to be able to truly fulfill the needs of our constituents,” Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, said.
The Legislature’s quest for more power in the budget process is not new. In 2004, the Court of Appeals ruled on two cases — commonly referred to jointly as Silver v. Pataki — and decided that the governor has sweeping authority in the budget process and can include policies unrelated to finances. The following year, New Yorkers overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have given legislators more power in the process.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, said he looks forward to talking with New Yorkers on the importance of the legislation and why they should support it.
“I look forward to having the conversation about lack of affordable housing, lack of education funding…and saying, ‘would you like every legislator in the state to have more power so we can actually negotiate’” these priorities in the budget?