ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Disagreement over proposals to try 16- and 17-year-old offenders in family court dashed the prospects for an on-time state budget in Albany Friday night and threw negotiations into disarray.
Frustrated state senators at one point left the Capitol only to be summoned back for possible votes on budget compromises that haven’t even been announced.
“It’s Albany dysfunction at its worst and is an embarrassment,” said Assemblyman Raymond Walter, a Buffalo-area Republican.
The main point of contention is a proposal from Democrats to raise the age of criminal responsibility so 16- and 17-year-old offenders are prosecuted in family court. As an alternative, Republicans in the state Senate have proposed creating a new youth court within the adult justice system for violent or felony offenders.
The ongoing dispute over the issue known as “raise the age” made it all but impossible for lawmakers to vote on a budget before Saturday, when a new fiscal year begins and the budget becomes officially late.
Senators began discussing the option of removing the raise-the-age proposal and other contentious issues entirely so a budget could be adopted quickly.
Syracuse Republican John DeFrancisco said he expects a budget to pass before Monday, but predicted that in order to do so many of the most contentious issues, including raise the age, will be “jettisoned” out of necessity. He said they could be taken up when lawmakers return to wrap up their session in May.
“I don’t think it’s a negotiating maneuver, I think it’s a practical maneuver,” DeFrancisco said.
Removing the raise the age proposal from the budget would be a major defeat for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Democrats who say the age of criminal responsibility is a civil rights issue.
“It’s a very difficult thing to ask me — would I consider a budget without raise the age,” said Heastie, D-Bronx. “That really means a lot to me.”
Advocates who have pushed raising the age of criminal responsibility for half a decade immediately chided lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo who have promised the issue as a key priority.
A late budget, on the other hand, would be a disappointment to Cuomo, who had a string of on-time budgets early in his tenure and has criticized the late budgets of the past as a symptom of political dysfunction.
Other top issues this year include greater tuition assistance for students, allowing app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to expand upstate, and investments in the state’s aging water systems.
Should the budget impasse extend into the week, Cuomo may have to consider whether to propose “budget extenders” to continue current state spending levels until a new spending plan is adopted.
Other top issues in this year’s budget debate include greater tuition assistance for students, proposals to allow Uber and Lyft to expand upstate, and investments in the state’s aging water systems.
Cuomo introduced his $152 billion budget proposal in January. It keeps the status quo when it comes to taxes, adds $1 billion in new public education spending, includes expanded childcare tax credits and a new initiative making state college tuition free for students from families making $125,000 or less.
The governor has not discussed the budget publicly since Tuesday, when he said “more than conceptual” deals had been reached on the budget’s major issues — a claim later contradicted by events.
While raise the age remained the most significant outstanding issue Friday, the details of other budget items were still being negotiated in closed-door horse-trading sessions.
“It’s just whack-a-mole,” DeFrancisco said. Then he muttered, “I don’t like whack-a-mole.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)