By Tom Precious
ALBANY – The Senate and Assembly will not be taking up the controversial matter of casino expansion when they approve their separate one-house budget measures next week, sending a signal to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that the issue should be set aside if he wants an on-time budget this year.
As part of an annual ritual where the majority parties of each house pass their own alternative budget resolutions or bills, the two houses on Friday agreed on one major point: there is plenty of time post-budget to take up the governor’s plan to permit up to seven new casinos in the state.
Sources familiar with the plans confirmed this morning what has been a growing likelihood in recent weeks that the sides are too far apart on the gambling plan to try to resolve it in time to get what they hope will be early passage of the 2013 state budget.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposes “enabling’’ language to accompany a separate resolution lawmakers are considering this year to add the new full-blown, Las Vegas-style casinos on non-Indian lands. In those enabling provisions, Cuomo seeks to site the first three casinos somewhere upstate – he does not say where or where the other four might go in the future. He also proposes that decisions about which casinos vendors are selected for which sites be left to a state agency he controls, leaving no say for lawmakers.
The Senate and Assembly budget measures are largely symbolic, seen as a mix of policy and fiscal priorities that serve as partisan guide posts and shout-outs to various constituent and special interest groups. But they also serve the purpose of having lawmakers essentially show their cards on matters that the sides are likely discussing in secret budget talks.
The Assembly plan, for instance, will seek to spend $25 million on a New York Dream Act, which would provide state college tuition assistance to children of illegal immigrants. The Senate plan, meanwhile, will include new tax breaks for businesses and property taxpayers.
The Assembly plan, set to be passed on Monday, is written by Democrats who control the chamber, while the Senate’s effort will be the work of Republicans and a five-member breakaway group of Democrats who together run the Senate. [It was noteworthy that the Democrats were a part of closed-door talks this week with Republicans in a third floor conference room at the Capitol to finalize terms of their budget plan.]
Given the powers of New York governors over the state budget process, he could force a showdown with legislators over the casino matter and a plan to raise the minimum wage – two issues he inserted into the budget even though neither issue has any real impact on the 2013 fiscal year plan. But Cuomo himself has been talking up the prospect for an early budget – lawmakers are due to leave Albany on March 21 for the religious holidays – before the April 1 fiscal year. And he has indicated he could be open to removing those two items from his budget plan and resolving the matters before the end of session in June.