It is not just facts and figures about what taxes to collect and how to spend them. Governor Cuomo's budget plan also contains unrelated changes — everything from allowing ride-hailing services to expand in the state to enacting ethics reforms.
From allowing Uber and Lyft outside of New York City to imposing term limits on lawmakers, the governor’s budget includes many items that normally would be considered policy changes and debated and approved in the regular part of the session.
He’d like to enact the Dream Act, which would offer college tuition assistance to children of undocumented immigrants, and raise the age of incarceration in adult prisons from 16 to 18.
“We’ve done everything we can administratively, but we need the law changed,” Cuomo said. “And we’d like to do it this year.”
Those proposals have stalled in the past in the state Senate, which is led by Republicans. Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, are against term limits.
Other non-budgetary proposals in the spending plan include requiring his agencies to buy American products for contracts worth more than $100,000, and changing the state’s liquor laws to allow beer and wine to be sold in movie theaters, with a focus on beverages made in the state.
By adding all the unrelated items, Cuomo has amplified a practice begun before him. It intensified after former Gov. George Pataki won a court case brought by the Assembly that affirmed a governor’s powers to go beyond numbers and add policy language to the budget.
Political science professor Bruce Gyory, who also has been a top adviser to two former governors, said it makes sense to load up the budget with policy items.
“You enhance your opportunity to get them done and focused on,” Gyory said.
Cuomo also is beginning his seventh year in office, and it’s not unusual for governors to lose political capital by now, Gyory said. Meanwhile, the Legislature is incensed over a failed attempt in December to win their first pay raise in nearly two decades and is reasserting some authority.
“There’s a recognition that there’s fence-mending that needs to go on,” Gyory said.
After threats of a boycott by lawmakers, the governor decided to take his State of the State address out of Albany. In his budget rollout, he tried to make it up to legislators, even offering them private briefings before he told the public what was in his spending plan.
Some senators still skipped the mansion meetings, and the Assembly scrapped its planned gathering altogether, saying debate on the floor was taking too long. Cuomo’s staff traveled to the speaker’s office to fill them in on the budget.
Technically, the governor could ram his budget and all the unrelated proposals through without the cooperation of the Legislature and say to them: Either accept the proposals or the government will be shut down. Gyory said it’s politically safer, though, to work out a deal that eventually leaves everyone happy.
“I’m not presuming it’s going to be hearts and flowers, or be done with kumbaya meetings,” he said. “But they can get there, if everybody gives a little.”
Cuomo’s spending plan does have something for everyone — all lawmakers of every political party like to spend more on public schools. A plan to extend the tax on millionaires pleases Democrats, while intensifying middle-class tax cuts appeals to Republicans.