ALBANY – The state Senate will begin passing budget bills later this afternoon, officials say, to try to keep alive a push by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to get a 2011 fiscal plan adopted early for the first time since 1983.
The "easy'' ones are on tap for passage. A Senate spokesman said bills have now been printed pertaining to the merger of several state agencies and the so-called "TED" bill: transportation and economic development.
Scott Reif, a Skelos spokesman, said other budget bills could also be ready later today for the Senate to pass.
Still out there in the land of uncertainty known as Albany budget hell: health care and education. Those two areas make up more than half the budget. Negotiators are still finalizing some Medicaid cuts and every rank-and-file lawmaker is waiting to see the district-by-district state aid to schools document that won’t be available until tomorrow at the earliest.
An on-time budget is due Friday. The last time a budget came early was nearly 30 years ago in the first year of the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo – the current governor’s father.
The Assembly will join the Senate this evening in passing a couple budget bills, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He said the whole spending plan could be wrapped up by tomorrow night.
Earlier in the day, legislative officials flatly ruled out the prospects for taking up any budget bills today. Curious, then, that things changed after word began spreading about a large protest scheduled for tomorrow at the Capitol -- a gathering that could, if demonstrators make it into the Senate and Assembly galleries, slow down the legislative process.
Asked if his chamber was taking any precautions in what could be the Capitol's largest demonstration this year and timed for the day the budget is to pass, Silver said, "I would anticipate that we'll have people who are interested in our proceedings. We're open to the public and that's always been our tradition and if there are any people who are there to do things that are inappropriate, the State Police manage the whole Capitol area.''
Billy Easton, of the Alliance for Quality Education, said he expects 300 demonstrators to try to stay all night at the Capitol. But he said Tuesday evening that organizers were told the Senate visitors gallery was being cut off to the group because they did not have reservations in advance for seating. “When did we end up with a state Senate when public access was by reservation only?’’ he said.
Easton said organizers were told Senator Hugh Farley had been given a large part of the Senate gallery so there would be no room for representatives of the protest groups to sit in the public space overlooking the Senate.
A Senate spokeswoman could not immediately comment on Easton's claims, though she did note that half the gallery was shut down as of today because a metal detector suddenly stopped working.
Scott Reif, a Senate Republican spokesman, said Farley reserved gallery space for 75 local school students and teachers on a field trip; those seats will be opened up to the public when the school group leaves. A Democratic senator, he said, has been given five reserved seats for representatives from the budget protest, he said.
-- Tom Precious