Cuomo not confident recreational marijuana will be part of state budget

Mar 11, 2019

With three weeks to go until the April 1 budget deadline, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is drawing some lines in the sand on items he says need to be in the spending plan, like a permanent property tax cap. But Cuomo says a proposal to legalize the adult use of marijuana likely will not be finished in time.

On the day that both houses of the legislature were set to release their own budget proposals, Cuomo laid out a  long list of his own requirements that he says need to be in the budget in order for him to agree to the final spending plan. He says time is short, and budget talks are not going well right now.

“ I think we are in trouble on the whole enterprise,” Cuomo said. “Look at how much we have to do.”

The governor says the deficit has grown to $3.8  billion dollars in what he calls an “unstable economy." He says in New York, it’s even more volatile because of the federal tax code changes that limit the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Cuomo’s requirements include making the temporary 2 percent per year property tax cap permanent, and helping pay for mass transit, with a congestion pricing program for parts of Manhattan.   The governor says the legislature has agreed to impose a  new pied- a- terre tax on luxury apartments that are not primary residences, which he estimates could bring in $9 billion dollars a year to help fix the subways and fund other transit projects .

But the governor says legalizing the adult use of marijuana is off the table in the budget.

“There is a wide divide on marijuana,” Cuomo said. “I believe that ultimately we can get there. An we must get there. I don’t believe we get there in two weeks.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he wants more time to craft a comprehensive system to legally produce, distribute and sell cannabis in New York. There are also competing proposals for where the revenues from the sale of the drug should go. Some back using the money to help fix the subways, others want reparations for people in neighborhoods adversely affected by the marijuana prohibition.

Cuomo says there’s also been some pushback, including from the PTA, which wants to ensure that children don’t get easy access to the drug.

The governor says he has not given up, though,  on including criminal justice reforms in the budget.  He says proposals to end cash bail , and change the discovery laws to give defendants earlier access to the prosecution’s evidence against them  are running into opposition from  the state’s DA’s and sheriffs. He says he hopes the pressure of the budget deadline can help forge a compromise faster.

“I’m not going to go through this year and not have criminal justice reform,” Cuomo said. “That is not going to happen.”

Cuomo says he’ll meet personally with individual legislators to help come to a deal.

The governor says he also wants to include a system for public campaign financing   in the budget, but will accept  a partial plan, with an agreement to work out the details later.

Advocates for public campaign financing immediately objected. They say Cuomo has already proposed a workable plan, and the legislature should adopt it. Jessica Wisneski is with the reform group Citizen Action. She says if Democrats in the US House , under Speaker Nancy Pelosi,  voted to enact a public campaign finance system for federal elections as part of the HR 1 legislation. And she says New York democrats should do the same.

“It was Nancy Pelosi’s first  major thing that they did in the new House,” said Wisneski, who says the public is demanding an end to politicians’ reliance on big money donors . “And they are expected it out of Albany, too.”  

With all of the unfinished items in the budget , and uncertainty over the state’s revenues, Cuomo  floated the possibility of not finishing the budget on April 1. He says they could instead wait until after all of the state’s tax returns come in in the middle of next month. The governor says that way, he and the legislature would have a truer picture of the state’s actual finances. But he says there’s an obstacle. A new rule makes planned pay raises for lawmakers contingent on an on time budget. The governor says he and his budget staff are looking at potential ways to get around that.