As part of my community engagement platform, I promised to provide a regular weekly update on what’s happening up in Albany.

You can always email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov if you have any other questions, ideas, or want more information about what’s happening in Albany or the district.

*The 2022 Legislative Session–Week Eleven*

Session

Remember that you can watch sessions live on the NYS Senate website and follow along with session proceedings on the official NY Senate Twitter.

This week we passed 36 bills, including one of my own.

  • S2012, which I cosponsor, prohibits surcharges for the installation or use of air conditioner units in housing accommodations subject to rent regulation.
  • S6517, which I also cosponsor, enhances support and services for students with disabilities for postsecondary success. Starting in the 2021–2022 academic calendar, funds shall be appropriated proportionally for each student with a disability enrolled in an institution of higher education.
  • S1131 eliminates a requirement in the Tax Law that requires the filing of a NYS Income Tax return even when that taxpayer is not required to file a federal return.
  • S8241A permits pregnant women to enroll in health insurance during a special enrollment period without penalty.
  • S907A permits employees of the state to be excused from work to donate blood.

You can see all the bills the Senate has passed so far this year here.

This week, we rallied for a New Deal for CUNY. With one week left before the State budget is passed, now is the time to fund CUNY to promote economic opportunities and economic justice for all students in higher education.

*The 2022 Legislative Session–Week Twelve*

Remember that you can watch sessions live on the NYS Senate website and follow along with session proceedings on the official NY Senate Twitter.

We passed 33 bills this week, including one of my bills as well as four others I am co-sponsoring. My bill, S7429, directs the Commissioner to conduct a study analyzing the current state of immigrant and refugee participation in adult education and the workforce, as well as develop recommendations for bettering their participation. Now, more than ever, we need to open our arms to refugees and immigrants and do everything we can to ensure they have access to education and the workforce.

I was a cosponsor of the following bills:

  • S6694B allows for better functioning dental offices by allowing dental hygienists to use local infiltration and nitrous oxide anesthetic modalities to assist a dentist in performing any dental service.
  • S3483A allows elderly citizens to retain their eligibility in the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program for certain individuals who have previously qualified but are no longer eligible because of an increase in a public or private pension or social security benefit.
  • S5924C discontinues certain practices related to withholding transcripts for purposes of collecting and enforcing student debt. This will ensure students have access to transcript data necessary to complete their degree and obtain employment.

Other bills passed by the Senate include:

  • S5321 increases the maximum civil penalty from $500 to $1000 per day per property for each day the mortgagee or agent of the mortgagee has been in violation.
  • S2837 limits the fixed charges that residential consumers pay on their utility bills. Utilities will only be allowed to charge residential consumers for the costs directly related to metering, billing, service connection, and customer service.
  • S5933A directs the Department of Labor to conduct a study on the employment rate of transgender persons in New York state. This study will determine to what extent discrimination and other barriers affect the employment rate for transgender individuals and ultimately provide legislative remedies.
  • S6233 enacts the “food retail establishment subsidization for healthy communities act” (FRESH Communities Act). This bill will promote public health and nutrition by authorizing assistance for establishment or retention of food retail establishments selling fresh food in underserved communities.
  • S5148 establishes the “Suicide Awareness and Remembrance Flag” as the official state flag to raise awareness of veteran suicide, and remember and honor those who have served this country. Raising mass awareness and breaking the stigma of suicide are could serve as the fundamental steps towards preventing their unfortunate deaths.

You can see all the bills the Senate has passed so far this year here.

*Budget Update*

As you may or may not know, the state budget was due on April 1st. Today is April 4th and the budget has not been agreed to yet. There are lots of ongoing negotiations to come to a budget agreement as quickly as possible, but as of this writing, I think it may be a few more days before a final agreement is reached. There are several threshold issues that are being negotiated and discussed that are taking up our primary attention. Chief among these issues are discussions about public safety and what can be done to stem the tide of gun violence in particular.

As we continue to negotiate with the Governor over the budget, I thought it would be helpful to repost what I wrote in April 2020 about the budget process and how it all plays out. Understanding the dynamics of the state budget, who has the leverage, and how it all comes together, helps shed a light on just how this process all comes together.

But first, a note on process — this is important

After last year’s budget — my first as a legislator — I alluded to the fact that the legislature is not a co-equal partner in budget negotiations. That was an eye-opening experience for me and many of my colleagues.

To understand how and why we ended up with a budget that leaves many of us deeply unsatisfied, we cannot ignore the fact that the state constitution explicitly places control of the budget process firmly in the hands of the Governor.

Article VII of the New York State Constitution states (emphasis added):

§2. Annually, on or before the first day of February in each year following the year fixed by the constitution for the election of governor and lieutenant governor, and on or before the second Tuesday following the first day of the annual meeting of the legislature, in all other years, the governor shall submit to the legislature a budget containing a complete plan of expenditures proposed to be made before the close of the ensuing fiscal year and all moneys and revenues estimated to be available therefor, together with an explanation of the basis of such estimates and recommendations as to proposed legislation, if any, which the governor may deem necessary to provide moneys and revenues sufficient to meet such proposed expenditures.

§3. At the time of submitting the budget to the legislature the governor shall submit a bill or bills containing all the proposed appropriations and reappropriations included in the budget and the proposed legislation, if any, recommended therein.

§4. The legislature may not alter an appropriation bill submitted by the governor except to strike out or reduce items therein, but it may add thereto items of appropriation provided that such additions are stated separately and distinctly from the original items of the bill and refer each to a single object or purpose. None of the restrictions of this section, however, shall apply to appropriations for the legislature or judiciary.

In short, the state constitution states that: (1) the governor must submit a budget to the legislature and can include policy proposals related to budget revenues and expenditures; (2) the text of the actual budget bills are submitted by the governor to legislature; and (3) the legislature cannot amend the budget bills submitted by the governor, except to eliminate or reduce a proposed spending item.

And thanks to a pair of Court of Appeals decisions known collectively as ‘Silver v. Pataki’, since 2004 the governor has increased authority to line-item veto any changes that the legislature makes to the budget that exceed the parameters of Article VII, Section 4.

Despite these constitutional restraints, the actual practice of finalizing the budget involves the legislature to a large degree. There are two and a half weeks of joint legislative budget hearings. Each chamber of the legislature passes a budget resolution that reflects the budget priorities of that chamber — a budgetary wish-list if you will for both the senate and assembly. And the final budget product that is voted on is a reflection of negotiations between the governor and the legislature.

But just like the state constitution requires, the final budget product is still a bill submitted by the governor to the legislature to be voted on. And so, at the end of the day, if the legislature really wants something included in the budget, the governor must agree to include it in the final budget bill to the legislature. Likewise, if the governor really wants to include something in the final budget bill, the legislature is constitutionally powerless to prevent him or her from doing so.

This is how you end up with a final budget that legalizes paid gestational surrogacy and e-bikes but includes cuts to healthcare spending and no new sources of revenue.

The strategic logic of supporting a budget compromise

You might be reading all of this — or reading news coverage about the recently adopted budget — and wondering why the legislature can’t just walk away from a deal it doesn’t like. After all, the budget can’t be adopted without consent of the legislature, so if we don’t like the final deal that is reflected in the budget bill submitted by the governor, we can reject it and start anew, right?

Wrong.

The state budget needs to pass by March 31st to keep the lights of state government on. Or, to put it in a more timely perspective, to keep the state health department and office of emergency management operational in the midst of a ravaging pandemic.

Nobody wants a government shutdown, least of all the New Yorkers who just lost their jobs depending on being able to file for unemployment. As it was, because this year we were two days late in passing the budget, hundreds of thousands of state employees were not paid on time. And while the state’s Covid-19 response did not stop at midnight on April 1st because the budget wasn’t done, we were close enough to finishing that we did not see a full government shutdown. But the prospect was not far from anyone’s mind as we raced to finish the budget over the last few days.

If the state shuts down, the only way to reopen it is by passing a new budget that — you guessed it — needs to be sent by the governor to the legislature as per Article VII of the constitution. Which gets us right back to where we started from. Except this time, a strong-willed and impervious governor might insist on adhering to his or her original budget proposal and force the legislature to either accept it or keep the government shut down. We don’t have to engage in hypotheticals — this happened under Governor Paterson in 2010.

In other words: the system is designed to come to a compromise by March 31st, and the best budget that can be negotiated by the deadline is in all likelihood the best outcome compared to the alternative of a shutdown or accepting the governor’s original proposal — or worse.

As a member of the legislature confronting this dilemma, there are two choices: vote no as a matter of principle, even though the alternative can be so much worse, or work in good faith to shape the final budget as best possible, and pray for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change unless you can successfully amend the state constitution.

Count me among the people who absolutely, unequivocally thinks we must amend the constitution to make the legislature an equal branch of government when it comes to writing and passing the state budget.

Thanks for reading! As always, you can email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov or call my office at 718–238–6044.

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