New York lawmakers are very optimistic about getting a budget done on time again this year. They say 99 percent of the state’s spending plan has been closed down, and they will pass bills before the end of the week.
In a sign that the end of the budget process is near, some legislative committees began wrapping up their work and closing down on Monday. The criminal justice and mental hygiene budget conference committees were among those that gaveled out by mid-day.
Several other committees closed down, but the conferences covering the two largest areas of the budget, health and education, postponed their meetings. The conference committees seldom decide anything of consequence in public, but can be viewed as an indication of what’s going on behind the scenes.
One outstanding issue is the health exchanges that New York must set up under the federal health care reform act. Senate Republicans have opposed the plan, saying the costs to set up the health insurance exchanges are uncertain.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told public radio and television that he would rather wait until the Supreme Court rules on whether the health care act is legal before setting up the exchanges.
“There are many, many unanswered questions.” Skelos said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, over the weekend, floated the possibility that he might have to set up the health exchanges via executive order.
“I would prefer to do it by legislation, but if not, one of the options is the executive order,” Cuomo said.
Governor Cuomo holds more cards than the legislature when budget talks come down to the wire. The governor has the power to simply wait until the budget is late, on April 1, then put all of his policies and spending plan in a budget extender. Lawmakers then face the choice of accepting the governor’s priorities, or being blamed for a government shutdown. Cuomo has made clear he won’t hesitate to use that option, if he has to.
“You may call it leverage,” Cuomo said, in answer to a reporter’s question. “I call it strength.”
By late Monday, it seemed that Cuomo would not have to use that option. Legislative leaders said they expected to agree to all the final issues and have bills ready to vote on before the end of the week.
Senator Skelos spoke at what he said was the final general conference committee meeting.
“We’re on track to get a budget passed on time, hopefully even early,” Skelos said.