State lawmakers busy with budget talks as April 1 approaches

Mar 21, 2017

With less than two weeks remaining before New York State's April 1 budget deadline, state lawmakers are busy in Albany working towards an agreement. WBFO spoke with two local representatives to find out what's still unresolved.

One unresolved issue on which Western New York representatives are solidly united is protecting the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center from closure. The Cuomo Administration would like to shut down the West Seneca facility and move the young population on to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center campus.

A view of the State Capitol Building in Albany.
Credit WBFO file photo

"These are children as young as four years old. We cannot have that happening," said Assemblyman Michael Kearns, whose district includes the current Children's Psychiatric Center campus.

"This is a top-10 hospital in the country, with the lowest reinstitution rate. I think it's going to be very important and there will be many discussions on that issue."

Kearns, a Democrat, is sponsoring language in budget negotiations that would block the proposed merger. Over in the Senate, Republicans Robert Ortt and Patrick Gallivan are doing the same.

"We also allotted $14 million to West Seneca for improvements there," said Senator Ortt, who chairs the legislative branch's Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Another Cuomo proposal seeing resistance, according to Senator Ortt, is the proposed free public college tuition program for qualified households. Among the questions raised by critics is how the program will be funded.

"College affordability and college access is a big deal, but I haven't talked to anybody, many colleges in the Senate and even some of my colleagues in the Assembly, folks from private universities, who have supported what the governor put forward," Ortt said.

Other unresolved issues include the allowance of ride-hailing services, including Uber and Lyft, beyond New York City. Kearns believes there's enough in place to pass it.

The Assemblyman, meanwhile, is hoping for more oversight by the State Comptroller's Office for regional economic development projects. While reaffirming his support for Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion," Kearns pointed out that many projects under that ambitious program have been clouded by investigations.

"We're talking about different things, people who serve on regional economic development councils, having it be more transparent, that there's no conflicts," Kearns said. "That's being discussed right now. Now we're talking about the Comptroller having more oversight. There are budgetary things but also there are policy issues that are included within this budget."

The Legislature has scheduled sessions through Thursday of this week and then Monday through Friday of next week.