State Legislature Passes On-Time Budget Amid Protests
Thursday, March 31, 2011
New York has a new state budget. The $132.5 billion budget contains a 2 percent spending cut and eliminates $10 billion, with historic cuts to schools, public colleges, social service programs and health care.
The spending plan passed on time in the early hours of Thursday morning, but the news was overshadowed by noisy day-long protests at the Capitol.
In the Senate, lawmakers finished the final pieces of the budget, health and education, shortly before midnight. The Assembly wrapped up shortly thereafter.
Senate Leader Dean Skelos said it’s a “responsible” budget for troubled economic times that cuts spending, reduces taxes and empowers the private sector to create jobs.
Hundreds of protesters, upset with budget cuts, marched and chanted, and decried the near-shutdown of access to the Senate and Assembly chambers.
With refrains of “this is our house” and “let the people in,” protesters gathered outside the Senate and Assembly viewing galleries, most of which were locked to the public after the demonstrators gave notice they intended to stay all day and night. Their primary complaints were deep spending cuts to school and human service programs.
Both Assembly galleries were shuttered. At one point the protesters began banging on the locked doors, the sound echoing throughout the halls of the five-story Capitol.
One Senate gallery was open, but the crowds were too numerous to be allowed in to watch the budget voting.
“I am highly, highly disgusted with how I’ve been treated today in this building,” said Amparo Sadler of Central Islip. “I can’t even go into the gallery to sit down and listen to what’s going on.”
Sadler held up a picture of her two-year-old granddaughter, saying she had come to the Capitol because she feared the $1.2 billion dollars in cuts to schools, as well as other reductions, would hurt the girl’s chances for a good education.
“She needs to get a damn good education, not just any kind of flimsy education,” said Sadler.
Even the Senate lobby was closed.
“What do you do when you don’t allow lobbyists in the lobby?” asked Blair Horner, a lobbyist with the New York Public Interest Research Group. “What are they called, ‘ists’?"
Only Senators, their staff and the media were allowed in. Guards locked the doors after each entry and exit.
“It’s disturbing to see a public building shut down, so that the public can’t actually observe their own government in action,” Horner said.
A day before the protests, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said visitors would be “welcome.” Officials pointed out that there was access to limited seating on the Assembly floor to view the voting.
Dean Skelos said one of the galleries in his house was closed because the metal detector broke. He added that the public has the right watch the proceedings as long as they do it peacefully.
“They have the right to protest. They have the right to speak their minds, but they don’t have the right to disrupt government,” he said.
Inside the Senate and Assembly chambers, the mood was relatively tranquil as voting continued on budget bills.
As dinnertime approached, tensions came to a head when state officials tried to deny the demonstrators the delivery of pizzas.
The protesters, who intended to stay overnight at the Capitol, were counting on 70 pizzas to sustain them through the night. But state troopers, who allowed legislative staff to have food delivered, at first denied the pizza delivery, leading to chants of “no pizza, no peace.”
Finally two Democratic Senators from the New York City, Kevin Parker and Bill Perkins, intervened.
“The pizza is going to be taken care of, we’re going to take it in for you,” Senator Perkins said.
“What about the budget?” one of the demonstrators shouted.
“We’re not doing the budget right now, we’re doing the pizza right now,” said Perkins, with a laugh.
“One thing at a time,” said Senator Parker.
The demonstrators finally got their pizza, but they could not get more school aid and a tax on millionaire’s restored to the budget.
With the Associated Press