March 24, 2023
Here in Albany it has been an exceptionally busy week as the joint legislative budget committees await what we refer to as ‘table targets’ – the funds each committee can spend on their priorities. The money comes from the additional revenue (agreed upon amount is $800M) that the Assembly, Senate and the Executive agreed is available for spending beyond what is required to fulfill all mandatory (recurring) state budget commitments that keep the trains running here in New York.
This week we focused heavily on advocacy to ensure the 8.5% COLA is more than a talking point for lawmakers, and that the state includes the all important insurance proposals we have discussed, in the final budget As you will recall, Assembly and Senate one house budget bills included an 8.5% COLA proposal for the Human Services sector, and the Senate embraced the insurance proposals while the Assembly failed to include them in their bill. The NYS Council continues to lead efforts to compel the Assembly to reverse its apparent decision to wait until after the budget is enacted to take up the insurance proposals. I have had some very frank discussions with Assembly central staff regarding the implications associated with waiting to address these critical reforms and have made it clear that for every day the Assembly doesn’t embrace these proposals, New Yorkers with commercial insurance are at risk and could die as they sit on waiting lists or fight with insurers for access to care.
As we have stated before, the Mental Hygiene budget committee is unlikely to be assigned enough money to pay for the difference between the 2.5% COLA proposed by the Governor, and the 8.5% that we desperately need, and so this issue will likely be kicked up to the leaders for final action. Although our second top line request, $500M for rates, was not included in either one house budget bill, the NYS Council is standing firm on this request. Since it was not included in the one house budget bills some associations have dropped it from their agenda for the rest of the budget making part of the session; however, we need these funds for rates and skyrocketing costs, so we will continue to fight for it as if lives depend on it – because they do. Message here: Yes, there is $1B proposed for the mental health system (the vast majority of which doesn’t touch the OASAS programs and services that are on the frontlines fighting the Opioid Epidemic) however after a decade of starving our system of care, we need more than an 8.5% COLA for both mental health and substance use disorder / addiction prevention, treatment and recovery programs.
Today we will expand our advocacy campaign to include tactics to compel the Senate to match the additional funds the Assembly put in their one house budget for the CCBHC Demo Program. As you will recall, last fall the NYS Council worked for 5 months to ensure the Governor would include a proposal in her January executive budget to expand the number of Demo slots available in NYS. In November we proposed language and then in early December we issued a Financial Analysis we commissioned from HMA, that proves without a doubt that NYS saves funds and improves access to high quality care when it converts clinics to the demo program. The Governor’s proposal would add 26 additional demos to the original 13 for a total of 39. We were able to compel the Assembly to put up additional funds in their one house ($10M) and now we must focus on the Senate. Stand by and THANK YOU for your continued advocacy!
Here’s a quickie from Politico that depicts what’s happening with state budget negotiations and the fast approaching
April 1 deadline:
Kick up your feet and watch some basketball this weekend — you’ll need all the energy you can get. Next week, the Legislature has scheduled its only five-day work stretch of the year. The budget is due as the clock strikes midnight into Saturday, April 1.
If everything was on schedule, final bills would be agreed upon by midnight this coming Tuesday to allow for the three-day aging process.
It’s hard to see that happening, and it’s not a great sign that Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders have all recently mused that meeting the exact deadline really doesn’t matter as much as some former governors liked to say it did. The budget was nine days late last year, Hochul told reporters at a press conference in Albany this week, noting that the hold up was her fault and she ultimately got what she wanted.
Three-way leaders’ meetings have been fully underway over the past several days, and the governor is hunkered down in Albany to continue them for the foreseeable future, according to her office.
But another troublesome flag for punctuality is that many Democratic lawmakers — who went home Thursday — say they still don’t know where the particular sticking points are going to be. Negotiations have seemed to nibble around the edges of the elephants in the room, they said.
Those include, but are not limited to: Hochul’s insistence on changes to pre-trial detention (bail laws) despite the Legislature’s refusal; which new or increased taxes will come off as least egregious to bail out the MTA; and conflicting views on how to get municipalities on board for a sweeping affordable housing plan.
“Some things are politically complicated but conceptually simple, like charter schools,” one Democratic lawmaker mused, when asked in passing about how negotiations were going. “But this housing stuff is legitimately complicated both ways, and everyone needs to acknowledge that.”
If it’s too complicated and everyone’s procrastinated too much, leaders have the ability to explore divisive issues outside of the state’s fiscal plan, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has reminded everyone. But the budget’s historically been the “best” way by lumping everything together for one torturous late-night vote.
So it could go a lot of ways next week. But if lawmakers don’t wrap up “on time” they’ll start to run into holidays; Passover starts at sundown on April 5, and Easter weekend follows with what is then supposed to be two weeks off for lawmakers.
“HAHAHA!” said one Democratic senator when asked about how budget timing might play out through holidays. “I don’t think they [leaders] are going to take our planned vacations into account for this.”
There’s also a state payday scheduled for April 12th. If legislators don’t have a budget by the time payroll needs to be processed, they would need to pass an extender — prolonging the current budget — so thousands of state workers can get checks on time. Once that happens, who knows how much longer it could go.