A bill to authorize millions of dollars in capital spending is simmering on the back burner as New York state lawmakers discuss legalizing marijuana, giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and other issues in the final week of their annual session.

It is an unusual twist for June, because spending matters usually are settled when the budget is adopted by April 1. But a $175.5 billion budget was approved this year without allocating significant new money for capital projects, which could include infrastructure upgrades or economic-development spending.

Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is holding back the introduction of the capital-spending bill, hoping to entice legislators to negotiate on a series of issues.

The Democratic governor has presented measures he is hoping legislators will pass alongside the spending bill, including the legalization of gestational surrogacy to help infertile or LGBT couples form families, and changes to sexual-harassment standards.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said he and lawmakers are trying to work out their differences on climate-change legislation.

Some legislators criticized the governor for using the spending bill as a bargaining tool. “Disturbingly, these are the kinds of things that happen in trade-off deals very close to the end” of the session, said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo said he wasn’t focused on the details of the spending bill, noting that he and legislators have their own funding priorities. The governor is seeking money to reconstruct flood-damaged areas along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and to upgrade mass transit in Buffalo.

Ms. Krueger said she would like to see additional money for the New York City Housing Authority, the operator of the largest public-housing system in the U.S.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, another Manhattan Democrat, said facilities at the state’s public colleges could benefit from investment.

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat and chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said her colleagues also are seeking supplemental funds for road and bridge repairs. “There’s a number of things that are outstanding,” she said.

Ms. Weinstein said she believes Mr. Cuomo’s office will take the lead on introducing a spending bill because legislators are constrained in which budgetary measures they can put forth. She said there have been general discussions about the measure, but she doesn’t know how much money would be authorized.

Critics expect a spending bill would include more funding for the State and Municipal Facilities Program (SAM), where the eligible projects are loosely defined in statute and specific projects are later earmarked by lawmakers.

E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, questioned the need for these projects. His organization found recent SAM allocations paid for projects he deemed frivolous such as a skate park and a local highway garage. “It’s this huge mutual back-scratching,” he said.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, said the state should be wary of approving capital projects outside of the budget process.

“Absent an emergency, state spending should be allocated during the budget process, when state leaders can adequately consider priorities and trade-offs,” David Friedfel, the organization’s director of state studies, wrote in a recent blog post. “It is not justifiable to add more debt to fund pork-barrel spending.”

© 2019 Wall Street Journal

You may also like

Pandemic, recession don’t bring down school budgets

Stephen T. Watson This year's school elections were delayed and then shifted entirely to voting by mail thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which also shut down schools here and across the country. District officials worried this new method of Read More

The good, the bad and the ugly in Cuomo’s budget

“We are at the early stages of what shapes up as the biggest state and city fiscal crisis since the Great Depression,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center. “Borrowing and short-term cuts aside, the budget doesn’t chart any clear path out of it.” Read More

Medicaid cuts make the state budget, with some tweaks

Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the conservative-leaning think tank the Empire Center, suggested this is because the proposed cuts are meant to slow the otherwise rapid growth in Medicaid spending, which means an increase is still possible.  Read More

Bill Requires Municipalities To Maintain Their Websites

Skoufis’ legislation references a 2014 Empire Center highlighted the poor quality of municipal websites many of which lacked basic information. The report found that less than 20% of local governments received a passing grade on their website’s availability of information and usability including two municipalities that did not have a website. Some of those websites have improved over the past five years, including Jamestown’s, which received an “F” rating in 2014. The updated city website includes all of the information Skoufis’ legislation would mandate. Read More

Albany’s ‘big ugly’ provides political cover, but has some benefits

“This has been one of the worst developments in the political process here in New York in modern history,” said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy think tank and a former aide to Gov. George Pataki. “It really is corrosive of accountability and democracy and, implicitly, the constitution prohibits it.” Read More

Panel at LIA meeting knocks state single-payer health care bill

"Ninety-three hospitals would lose more than 10 percent of revenue," said Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative  Albany think tank. Read More

Capitol Pressroom: Gov. Hugh L. Carey Policy Forum

In recent memory, New York’s budget negotiations typically end with the good, the bad, and the big ugly. Is it time to change the way the state budget is negotiated? We recapped this morning’s event on the topic with EJ McMahon, Founder and Research Director of the Empire Center, and former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. Read More

Capitol pressroom

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and EJ McMahon, Founder and Research Director of the Empire Center, shared their insights into the effects of the legislation and the political implications. Read More