This is the last full week before the New York state budget is due. But with the April 1 deadline looming, two of the “three people in a room” who hash out the spending plan are questioning whether the third should remain in office.
Late March is typically budget crunch time in Albany, but talks this year are unlike any in memory. Facing multiple misconduct allegations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has defied calls to resign from dozens of fellow Democrats around the state — including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who along with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie must agree to the final spending deal.
Stewart-Cousins updated reporters last week on how budget talks might play out.
“I’ve made my opinions clear, I think the governor should resign, but I also understand that it is important that we do our job and that will always be my focus and my conference’s focus,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Cuomo was accused by a seventh woman of inappropriate conduct Friday. The New York Times reported that Alyssa McGrath, a current employee of the governor’s office, says Cuomo gazed down her shirt and remarked on her looks.
The harassment claims are being investigated by the state attorney general and are the subject of an impeachment inquiry in the Assembly. Another aide to the governor who has not come forward publicly alleges Cuomo groped her in the Executive Mansion in Albany.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied touching anyone inappropriately.
Debra Katz, the attorney for another one-time Cuomo aide accusing the governor of misconduct, Charlotte Bennett, on Monday morning wrote to Democratic Attorney General Tish James, asking her to disavow a parallel investigation reportedly being carried out by Cuomo’s office.
Other accounts in recent days have pointed to a difficult workplace under Cuomo. Cuomo’s aides acknowledge the office is “hard-charging,” but deny harassment claims.
One report by Ronan Farrow of “The New Yorker” featured the first interviews with former Empire State Development staffer Lindsey Boylan, who is now running for Manhattan Borough President. She accused Cuomo of harassment late last year.
Farrow spoke with WAMC public radio in Albany.
“I have now talked to dozens of current and former Cuomo staffers, who, frankly, in private conversations grapple with that very question," Farrow said. "I've had people say to me, I was possibly bullied while I worked for the governor, where is the line in terms of my deciding that crossed into inappropriateness?”
For his part, Cuomo spoke Monday at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, where he announced New Yorkers 50 and up will be eligible for the COVID vaccine starting Tuesday.
“So we are dropping the age as we’re vaccinating more people,” Cuomo said.
The event, a second rally with Black leaders in a week, was closed to reporters. Cuomo did hold a conference call later in the day and said he would not address the latest allegations.
“There’s an ongoing review by the Assembly and the attorney general’s office and I’m not going to have any comment on that until the appropriate time,” Cuomo said.
Back to the budget: Budget Director Robert Mujica was also on the call.
He said given the latest federal COVID relief, previous warnings about a multibillion-dollar deficit are fading. Mujica says the state budget can now restore cuts proposed by Cuomo and avoid most tax hikes favored by the Legislature.
“So as of now, and our latest talks with the legislature, and staffs have been meeting throughout last week and over the weekend, and we’ve identified over $5 billion in resources available,” Mujica said.
Mujica says the discussion is moving now to new spending proposals.