ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers on Thursday delayed immediate decisions on how to find $10 billion in potential spending cuts in an elastic state budget aimed at keeping state government running amid a crisis brought on by a virus outbreak that has hammered New York City and upended the economy.
Seated in their offices or far apart from one another in the largely vacant chambers, lawmakers took final votes on budget bills. The exact size of the budget for the next year was unclear, but lawmakers are attempting to slash as much as $10 billion from the $178 billion originally proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The extent of spending cuts will depend on whether New York receives enough federal funding or if the economy recovers enough to make up for a potential $10 to $15 billion loss in state revenue.
“We can all agree that the budget we are passing is not the budget that any of us hoped to pass at the beginning of the session,” Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “It’s not even the budget we expected to pass a month ago. Our state’s financial situation has been thrust into true economic crisis.”
Lawmakers have agreed that the ongoing epidemic necessitates expanding the governor's role over state spending and response efforts. The governor’s budget office would have to notify lawmakers about 1% revenue shortfalls or overspending, and the administration could cut spending if lawmakers don’t come up with their own plan in ten days.
The budget deal is also set to include at least $8 billion in short-term borrowing to help the state handle a tax deadline delayed to July 15. The state can also access a $3 billion line of credit.
Cuomo, a Democrat, and Stewart-Cousins called for urgent, additional federal funding to help New York respond to the outbreak.
New York state government is set to receive at least $5 billion in federal aid for the cost of responding to the virus, on top of over $1 billion in emergency education funding. But Cuomo has said the amount is not enough to offset possible revenue loss and response costs that have already exceeded $1 billion.
Schools are receiving nearly the same amount of funding as last year — about $28 million. Cuomo had proposed $800 million in extra school aid in January. New York will lose out on extra federal education aid if funding falls further.
The budget also allows Cuomo's administration to reduce healthcare spending this year or next.
Cuomo had complained New York would lose out on billions of dollars in emergency Medicaid funds because Congress prohibited states from restricting Medicaid until the outbreak is declared over. A state task force was tasked this year to propose trimming $2.5 billion in Medicaid spending.
The budget allows Cuomo's administration to delay some Medicaid proposals amid the crisis — including another 0.5% in across-the-board Medicaid payment cuts, a cap on managed long-term care enrollment and restrictions on Medicaid-funded personal care aide programs.
A coalition of several health consumer groups said cuts during or after the pandemic will devastate struggling hospitals shouldering the brunt of the outbreak.
Several left-leaning advocacy groups including VOCAL-NY slammed lawmakers for failing to consider higher taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents to help provide more revenue for schools.
Republicans criticized Democrats for including a host of new laws in the budget that have received little public scrutiny in recent weeks: from the legalization of paid surrogacy, to a ban on Styrofoam containers, a sweeping new paid sick leave law, an expansion of prevailing wage mandates, a ban on flavored vaping, a new small-donor public financing system, and an increased ballot threshold making it harder for third parties to qualify for the ballot.
New York will also legalize e-bikes and e-scooters, add E Pluribus Unum to the state's coat of arms, seize weapons from certain individuals linked to possible domestic abuse, establish a new “domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate” felony, and ban high-risk sexual offenders from rising the MTA.
New York is also tweaking a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses that drew rebuke from President Trump’s administration, which had halted the import and export of used vehicles in New York and cut residents from “trusted traveler” programs. New York can now share certain state motor vehicle records that federal officials say is needed to import and export vehicles and vet New Yorkers applying to trusted traveler programs. The law aims to ensure that data can't be used for immigration enforcement.
Another budget measure backed by Cuomo would also tweak a new state law that started in January to end cash bail for 90% of crimes, allowing thousands of New Yorkers facing charges for mostly non-violent crimes to avoid being held in jail while awaiting trial.
Republicans and many law enforcement officials around the state initially raised concerns that the law was emptying jails and endangering the public, while supporters said cash bail unjustly oppresses poor and minority communities.
Cuomo’s proposed tweak includes making more crimes eligible for bail starting in 90 days — including felony sex trafficking, money laundering, strangulation, certain hate crimes, criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, grand larceny, escape and failing to register as a sex offender.
Cuomo said Thursday that his administration has looked at the roll-out of the new law: “I think we made the right change now.”