By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- The Senate is now saying anchors away. They are coming back Sunday at 3 p.m. to begin passing the budget bills that were printed days ago (like the capital, public protection and general government and legislative budget bills). So what about the ones still hanging out there that affects millions of New Yorkers, like state aid to education? Or the big revenue bill with all its (mostly back-loaded into 2014) tax cuts? Or the minimum wage hike?
Well, we haven't seen those yet, and if they aren't in print by tonight that means the Senate won't be able to take them up even on Tuesday. That is unless, of course, Cuomo gives the Senate a message of necessity to avoid having to let those bills age three business days. That's the message of necessity power he used in January to quickly get the gun control bill onto the floor, a route still being criticized, including in lawsuits, by gun control advocates. Cuomo has said he has "no plans'' to give such a message with the budget. Key word: "plans."
And, as any good insider must be wondering: how are they going to work out the school runs? Those are documents that details, in tiny type and many lines, the various pots of money that all add up to how much money each school district in the state will get in the budget. There is no better kept, and time-honored secret, than the annual school run process. It is the most bread and butter moment for rank-and-file lawmakers; few lawmakers may read the thousands of pages of the state budget, but all of them read every last line of the school runs because they know there is nothing else in the fiscal plan that so directly affects so many constituents.
The documents are put together in secret by only a few staffers who actually understand how the formula works. Then the documents are locked up in a room at the state education department across the street from the Capitol until both Senate and Assembly staffers are called to bring the school run documents on carts at the exact same moment to be delivered to anxious senators and members of the Assembly.
So, under the Senate's thinking with their budget adoption schedule, Senate staffers say they will be releasing the school runs when the education budget bill is adopted, which they say could be in the early morning hours of Tuesday. That's two days before Assembly members return to town.
One has to wonder, given the strangeness of how this process is playing out during what was to be a vacation week for lawmakers: how many legislators have non-refundable travel tickets?
It's been called the "easy'' budget, the "boring'' budget, the "simple'' budget.
Lawmakers were to return Sunday afternoon to start passing budget bills and wrap up things on Monday. But Assembly officials are now saying the return of lawmakers has been put off until Thursday at 10:30am. (That's when a small window opens during the Passover Jewish holiday and the day before the Good Friday Christian holiday.)
Things did not look good this morning when the internal bill tracking system was down and by this afternoon showed that none of the remaining budget bills -- key ones, like education and revenue bills -- were in by midnight last night to let them age for three days for passage on Monday.
No word from the Senate yet on its timetable, but it takes two to make a budget. (See update above for how strange this 2013 budget process is becoming.) News of the Assembly not coming back was confirmed in an email from Mike Whyland, the spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Whyland said, though, that there are no major problems, but it has come down to a scheduling issue.
Recall that it was Wednesday evening when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they had reached a deal on the 2012 budget and were talking about budget bills being passed starting on Saturday -- as in yesterday.
The sides have been stuck on some final tax break matters, relaxing marijuana laws and other provisions. And there has been no sign of specific state aid numbers for the state's 700 school districts.