As this blog is being published, the New York State 2023-2024 budget is officially three days late. Such a development is hardly news in Albany. Over the past 40 years at least 25 of the new state budgets were approved later than the April 1 deadline. The budgets were late 20 consecutive years between 1985 and 2004, averaging 54 days. The longest delay was in 2004 – 133 days!
Reasons for the delays have all, in a sense, been political but they have been political in different ways. For most of the previously noted 40-year period control of Albany was divided. The Assembly has been in Democratic control since 1975, but for most years in that period the Senate was in Republican hands. That control shifted in strange ways for a few years with some wheeling and dealing producing strange majority coalitions. Then in 2019 the Senate majority shifted to the Democrats. Both houses at this time have “super Democratic majorities,” meaning that there are enough Democratic members in each house, if they remain united, to override any gubernatorial veto.
Over this same 40-year period Democrats have held the governor’s office for all but the 12 years when George Pataki was Governor. The changing political makeup of political control in Albany has had much to do with budgets being late.
Politics in another sense has also played a big part in the late budgets. Contentious issues have often created intra-party as well as inter-party divisions. Such is the case in 2023.
For the moment, riding off the crest of huge federal pandemic relief funding, the state’s finances are in pretty good shape, although State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently reported that Wall Street bonuses are down 26 percent from a year ago. Wall Street bonuses are always a large part of the state’s annual income tax revenues. As state budgets go, however, the treasury has sufficient money to pay for the necessities and then some.
It’s the “then somes” that create budget disagreements. The governor’s and legislators’ program priorities are not always in sync. Add to that the fact that a small but rather vocal group of far-left Democratic legislators are often out of sync with their colleagues in the party caucuses of both houses of the Legislature.
That group has been very aggressive in pushing its priorities during the current session, aided by several community and social justice groups. The weeks running up to the official budget deadline always see large contingents of the groups holding press conferences, visiting legislative offices, and holding rallies. This session a group that has been particularly active is Invest in Our New York. The group is challenging what they describe as “deep cuts to public education, tuition hikes on CUNY/SUNY schools, and tax giveaways for New York’s wealthiest billionaires and corporations.”
They have organized sit-ins in the Capitol War Room so regularly that the furniture was removed. Some of their members have been arrested (but not charged) because of the demonstrations. They were joined by seven state legislators. They have held protests outside the home of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has provided millions of dollars for a TV ad campaign in support of Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget.
Much of the policy debate in this budget cycle concerns Hochul’s efforts to make changes in bail reform legislation approved in 2019. Both sides on the argument come armed with a variety of studies and polls supporting their positions.
The Governor’s plan to significantly increase available housing throughout the state has run into serious opposition from the Legislature, which is arguing for maintaining local control of housing development. There are disagreements about climate related issues that all seem to center around whether or not you can still have a gas stove but are really about how seriously to react to the climate crisis. A one dollar increase in the tax for a pack of cigarettes seems to have little opposition, but there is strong opposition to Hochul’s efforts to ban menthol cigarettes.
So when and how does it all end? I’m going out on a limb here, but I predict that the State Legislature will approve a 2023-2024 budget before the 2023 summer solstice.
Now that the official April 1 deadline has passed the Governor has increased leverage in the process if she chooses to use it. Based on court decisions during George Pataki’s years, in order to keep the government operating the Governor must send extender bills. Under the state Constitution, the Legislature cannot increase or alter a governor’s budget. With this authority she can resolve both financial and policy disputes. Hochul may choose to negotiate with legislators for a time but if that drags on she has options. Keeping state employees on the job and paid is technically the driving reason for extender bills, but the power that comes with such legislation is basically unstoppable.
The state budget is in overtime and the odds favor the governor.
An arresting development
The expected arrest and arraignment of Florida retiree Donald J. Trump (also known as Individual One) on charges likely related to business and tax fraud in New York City is another milestone in the bizarre history of the man. Having never been willing to admit he is wrong about anything or to accept defeat even when it is obvious, Trump has for the moment run into a brick wall.
He and supporters expect that the indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney will boost his 2024 political efforts. It will likely strengthen support among the 35-40 percent of Republicans for whom any alleged crime or indiscretion does not matter. His political fate rests with the attitude of the other 60-65 percent of Republicans who may have had enough.
The alleged Trump crime spree spreads out much wider and into much more serious charges than the ones brought in Manhattan. In the end repeating stories about crimes run-rampant cannot help any political candidate. While some pundits suggest the possibility of a dozen or more Republicans seeking the 2024 nomination, the reality is that Trump’s 35-40 percent base will weaken and scare off most potential challengers, limiting the field to three or four contenders, including Trump, by the time caucuses and primaries get going.
I am among those who think that Joe Biden has accomplished much for this country, particularly in the face of extremely slim majorities in Congress. But I think, with all due respects to all spry octogenarians, that the presidency requires the vigor of people who are not in their 80’s. That would also, of course, include Trump, who would be in his eighties during his term if he were to be elected. I am not expecting either of them to follow my advice.
It is time to move on to a younger generation with new ideas and vigor.