ALBANY -- The State Senate has taken the rare step of shutting down its lobby to the public as budget protestors start arriving at the Capitol for a series of demonstrations in the hallways against the budget being adopted today.
Only senators, staff members and reporters were being permitted to enter the ornate lobby just outside the Senate chamber -– an area usually filled with lobbyists, tour groups and others on session days.
"It’s just part of the additional security that was put in place for the day," said Mark Hanson, a spokesman for the Republicans in control of the Senate.
Some lobbyists were able to make it past the guards, while others who were in the area before the order came down were afraid to leave because they might not get back in. "I have to go to the bathroom,'' said one lobbyist in the closed-off area.
Shortly after the Senate action, the Assembly said it was closing down its public gallery areas overlooking the chamber.
An increasing presence of state troopers –- one with a taser on his belt –- was also seen around the Capitol. Lawmakers are worried the protestors will be able to slow or halt their legislative proceedings as they try to wrap up the budget adoption today.
On the State Street side of the building, security screeners prohibited one group of organizers from bringing marshmallows -– to make S’mores (without the fire) in a planned camp-out in the Capitol tonight. Also being blocked were demonstrators with whistles and any other types of noisemakers.
The first group of protesters was looking to begin forming about 1:30 outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, before demonstrators move upstairs to the areas around the Senate and Assembly chambers.
UPDATE: Hundreds of demonstrators are scattered in several different areas of the Capitol as of 3pm. A group of state university students have jammed the Million Dollar Staircase, while other groups have formed outside the Assembly and Senate chambers holding signs and shouting at lawmakers. The Assembly has stopped passing budget bills until 6pm while lawmakers await the two biggest and most controversial bills: school aid and health care funding.
The themes in all the different protest points are the same: lawmakers should un-do spending cuts to various programs and impose a tax on millionaires.
"It's not a budget crisis. It's a crisis of priorities,'' Cayden Mak, a University at Buffalo graduate student, said as fellow demonstrators chanted against the budget cuts. Mak criticized the governor and lawmakers for choosing to cut SUNY operating funds again -- which students say has led to larger class sizes and program cuts. Mak also said UB has focused too much on its UB2020 plan and not enough on fighting back against SUNY budget cuts.
"It's preposterous to let the millionaire's tax expire and at the same time ... cut programs for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,'' Mak said.
Organizers said in advance they knew they could not stop the budget budget adoption train in the two houses. But as 5pm approached, they were facing another setback: organizers said they were being told by security officials that their large order from a local pizza joint to feed the hungry crowd might not be permitted into the building.
Meanwhile, the budget marches on. After a break of several hours, both houses are due back in the next hour to begin passing more budget bills. By tonight, the Senate and Assembly vow to pass the final two components: health care and education.
"No pizza. No peace,'' angry protestors shouted this evening as a pizza delivery was initially blocked at the doors to the Capitol by police. Organizers said they spent part late afternoon having to negotiate with officials from the Cuomo administration over the pizza delivery. In the end, some Senate Democrats got the food into the building for the protestors.
The Cuomo administration did not have an immediate comment.
As much of Albany awaited details like school district funding amounts, the Cuomo administration found itself having to respond to things like -- pizza delivery. Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, said officials were concerned about the mess 70 pizza pies could create in the historic Capitol. He said protest organizers were offered a space in nearby concourse. "They never responded to that offer,'' Vlasto said.
No early budget. Senate okayed the budget before midnight. Assembly on last bill as 1am approaches -- denying Cuomo and Legislature rights to claim an early budget. But it is to be on time by the March 31 deadline -- the first since 2006 when George Pataki was governor.
One arrest -- a man hit a legislative staffer in the head with a drum cymbal. Few dozen demonstrators left in the building now. A state police major, Wiliam Sprague, said they can remain in the building for one hour after the Assembly finishes its business before being asked to leave.
-- Tom Precious