Lawmakers Push to Level the Playing Field During Budget Season

Governor Cuomo’s once outspoken critics crumbled as the state budget process dragged on, ultimately handing the Governor everything he wanted in the final deal. Bold newcomers hoped they would have more of a say in the proposals passed. Maybe they didn’t know they would be left out of the negotiation process altogether.

Albany’s biggest deals are always negotiated by “three men in a room,” where the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate majority leader craft proposals behind closed doors. And once those secretive deals are made, the Governor issues messages of necessity to avoid the mandated three-day waiting period for review of budget bills before lawmakers are forced to vote.

But this is nothing new. City and State puts it bluntly: “When it comes to determining what gets into the state budget, one man – Gov. Andrew Cuomo – holds nearly all of the leverage.” In fact, the Governor can use his line-item veto to remove any additions the Legislature makes to his executive proposal. That means the Legislature must pass or delay the Governor’s proposal, because it cannot legally change anything except to reduce spending levels or strike out items.

That leads us to the bigger problem of giving the Governor the authority to include policy proposals in the budget. According to WAMC, the state supreme court upheld the decision allowing the governor to put unrelated policy items into the state budget, while the legislature has no power to alter them.

But instead of finalizing these policy proposals, it’s common for the Governor to pass the work off to a commission so his idea still becomes law without having to flesh out the details. Robert Brodksy highlighted this problem in the Times Union. He argues that the biggest decisions in this budget – congestion pricing and campaign financing – were voted on without any information and then passed off to commissions to sort out.

Now lawmakers are hoping to change the budget process for good to level the playing field between the Legislature and the Governor. According to the New York Daily News, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell introduced a bill that calls for a constitutional amendment to give the Assembly and Senate the ability to “alter any and all appropriation bills submitted by the governor.” It would also strip the governor of his line-item veto power.

Senator Michael Gianaris has also signaled support for a similar constitutional amendment. And most recently, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said lawmakers need to find a way to “equalize our power” during budget negotiations.

Do you think lawmakers should have more power during state budget negotiations? Let us know in the comments!