NYS budget talks extra secretive because of billions in unexplained “adjustments” from last year’s COVID emergency budget


Watchdog Group Calls for Basic Budget Transparency, Removal of Governor’s Extraordinary Budget Powers, No Raids on Funds Dedicated to Transit and the Environment, and an End to Wasteful Subsidies to Real Estate and Petroleum Industries

“Messages of necessity” should not be used, so all bills making up $193B+ budget age full three days

The Governor and Legislative Leaders are currently negotiating next year’s budget, despite big questions about what programs were actually cut last year.

State budget director, Rob Mujica, said on March 22nd that the Legislature and Governor agreed there is $5B more in revenue to spend and that 5% cuts would be restored, but did not clarify if this was for the upcoming budget year starting April 1st (FY 2021-2022) or to pay back funds DOB withheld from agencies and programs in the unusual COVID-19 emergency budget for FY 2020-2021. The answer to this question is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to state agencies, state contractors, SUNY/CUNY and the MTA.

While secretive processes have been used in the past to distribute state funds, like Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) for state slush funds, the “adjustment” process that the Governor and Legislature established in April 2020 has made the state budget process even less transparent. It gave the Governor broad, unilateral discretion to withhold funding from agencies and choose when and whether to restore it during the past budget year.

Reinvent Albany remains strongly opposed to Governor Cuomo’s budget proposals to increase his emergency budget powers. We were among 17 watchdog groups that wrote the Governor and Legislature urging them to remove from the budget powers for the executive to: (1) continue to withhold funds in the Aid to Localities budget; (2) transfer funding between state operating agencies, including by “interchange”; and (3) unilaterally distribute funds from a “COVID-19 Extraordinary Relief Fund,” which would include proceeds from any new taxes created by the Legislature (Part UU of the PPGG bill). These powers were all rejected in the Assembly and Senate one house bills.

Reinvent Albany wants the Governor and Legislative Leaders to bring some much needed sunshine into the next few days of budget deals. We believe state’s elected leaders should tell the public whether the state will pay back all COVID-era “withholdings,” and age all budget bills for three days, as is required by law. Giving the public and legislators three full days to review budget bills worth billions of public funds is fundamental to public transparency — and often disregarded by state leaders. More commonly, the Governor issues messages of necessity that allow an immediate vote, especially for proposals that could not survive public scrutiny like last year’s hospital and nursing home immunity provision.

Reinvent Albany has also urged the Legislature and Governor to act on the following budget items:

  1. Reject raids on MTA and environmental dedicated funds. Earlier this month, 30 organizations and unions asked state leaders not to raid $160M in dedicated statewide transit funds which the Governor proposed steering to the state’s general fund. The Assembly and Senate’s bills rejected the raid. The Senate’s budget increased funding for transit statewide by 10% above pre-COVID levels. This funding should be clearly dedicated to transit systems in the final budget rather than provided through the general fund. Similarly, Reinvent Albany joined green groups urging the restoration of $23M in raided Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds. The Legislature rejected these raids in their one house bills.
  2. Eliminate unjustifiable and wasteful state subsidies to the real estate and fossil fuel industries. Reinvent Albany would like state leaders to include in the enacted budget the Opportunity Zone Elimination Act, which is supported by 20 organizations and 6 unions. New York can save billions in the long term by ending this Trump-era handout to real estate. The Senate included the bill in its one-house budget. The state should also end the hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil subsidies New York hands out every year, as has been proposed by Senator Krueger. Neither house addressed this in their budgets.
  3. Fully fund the Authorities Budget Office, which oversees state and local economic development authorities.
  4. Restore the Comptroller’s contract oversight powers. Watchdog groups have asked the Legislature to reject the Governor’s proposals to strip the Comptroller of oversight of important state contracts, including those from SUNY and CUNY (the Comptroller’s ability to pre-audit SUNY and CUNY contracts was restored in 2019 following the upstate bid-rigging scandal).
  5. Fully fund NYS democracy programs including the state’s redistricting commission, election administration, and implementation of the new public campaign finance system.