Cuomo Warns of School Aid Cuts in Budget Deal Amid Outbreak

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New York lawmakers were preparing Wednesday to work late into the night to pass a budget that is expected to slash school aid as the coronavirus outbreak roils the state's economy.

Lawmakers failed Tuesday night to pass a budget before the start of the state's fiscal year, which began Wednesday. Several lawmakers have stressed the importance of passing a budget that ensures state government is working amid a crisis that has already cost the state $1 billion and claimed the lives of more than1,900 people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he has a conceptual deal with the state Assembly and Senate on a spending plan that he has said will be smaller than his $178 billion budget, which proposed a 2% increase in state spending. The governor has suggested lawmakers could pass a budget that slashes state spending for now and gives his administration the authority to increase spending later, as federal aid arrives. Democrats and Republicans have spoken in support of expanding Cuomo's authority on the budget amid the public health emergency.

The Democrat has said the deal will likely include short-term borrowing to help the state's cash flow as tax-filing deadlines are delayed.

“This is a particularly difficult budget because there is no money and there's much fear and there's much stress,” said.

“We can't spend what we don't have,” he added.

The Legislature took votes Wednesday on several budget measures, including a $3 million bond package to fund clean water infrastructure projects, a ban on plastic foam containers, a ban on fracking and efforts to make it easier to site renewable energy projects.

But many details about the magnitude of spending cuts, the governor's authority over adjusting state spending throughout the upcoming year and just what new laws will be included in the budget remain unclear. The Assembly and House declined this month to release their own policy and spending proposals, which have traditionally given the public a sense of where lawmakers stand before budget negotiations begin.

Cuomo's budget director, Robert Mujica, said the administration is open to delaying some of the governor's efforts to trim $2.5 billion in ballooning Medicaid costs, which he launched before the outbreak.

Cuomo has said that the budget likely won't legalize recreational marijuana sales. It's less clear whether the deal will include his proposal to legalize gestational surrogacy.

Meanwhile, criminal justice groups took aim at Cuomo's push to tweak a new state law largely doing away with cash bail by restoring judicial discretion.

“What Gov. Cuomo is proposing will send legally innocent people into jails to die,” said Clarise McCants, Criminal Justice Campaign Director at Color Of Change. “With the horrific conditions we’re seeing at jails across the state, anything but getting people out of those cages is a death sentence.”

When asked whether bail reform would be included in the budget Wednesday, Cuomo said “you'll have to see.”

The biggest question is how much federal funding will arrive to offset the cost of the outbreak, which has killed over 1,900 people statewide. Congress is sending New York at least $5 billion for virus response costs, but Cuomo argues federal funding isn't enough, given the outbreak's outsize effect on the state. And he's said he isn't counting on Congress to deliver more.

Lawmakers have been working, holding conference calls and voting on bills from their offices in Albany amid concerns over further spreading the virus. At least five Assembly members and one senator have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Legislature is exploring remote voting procedures but it remains unclear what the legislative session will look like in coming weeks.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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