In Albany, 'Budget Priorites' Other Than Spending

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Assembly Member Latrice Walker (lower left, with microphone) and women lawmakers and advocates call on Gov. Cuomo to make good on his pledge to expand voter rights in New York.

New York's Democratic-led Assembly has released its proposed budget as a counter-offer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget. The Republican-led Senate is expected to follow suit on Wednesday.

And once again, the final phase of the annual budget maneuvers begin — with many moving parts that have little to do with money. 

Cuomo can always make an indirect case that there's a "financial impact" to ostensibly non-budgetary proposals such as campaign finance reform. But observers said the practice is more about allowing him to set his priorities and strengthen his hand at the negotiating table.

“If the governor wants ethics reform, let him propose it through the regular legislative process, not through the budget,” Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean), Finance Committee Chair, said earlier in the session.

Typically, Cuomo plays some cards more publicly than others, as he and other legislative leaders head into the next fortnight’s worth of closed-door sessions.

For instance, this year he’s spoken more forcefully than in the past about the Raise the Age initiative, which started in 2012. At a rally this week in Manhattan’s historic Central Synagogue, Cuomo decried that New York is one of only two states that routinely treat 16- and 17-year-old lawbreakers — including suspects — as adults rather than juveniles, automatically holding them in adult jails after arrest, trying them in adult criminal courts and sending them to adult prisons if convicted.

"The reality of putting a 16 or 17-year-old in the same facility as hardened adult criminals is on its face cruel and inhuman," Cuomo said in one of his most fiery speeches of recent months.

But he’s expressed support more quietly and occasionally for other issues he nominally supports, such as campaign finance reform and an expansion of voter rights. 

Assembly Member Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) called on Cuomo to keep his promises.

“He talks of early voting. He talks of automatic registration,” Walker said, addressing a group of women lawmakers and advocates on one of the State Capitol’s grandest stairways. “Talk is cheap.”

The self-declared suffragettes were all Democrats. They said they invited women from the GOP and the centrist Independent Democratic Conference to attend, but none came. Getting anything through the Republican Senate, though, is an uphill fight for Democrats and is only remotely possible when the governor is in their corner, ready to fight.

After the Senate releases its “one-house bill,” with its counter-offers to the Cuomo budget, the doors close, and the fights begin.

The new fiscal year begins on April 1st.