COVID-19 May Keep Controversy Out of ’20-21 Budget

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Under ordinary circumstances, the annual New York State budget is due to be passed by April 1 of each year.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the outbreak of the coronavirus has made our circumstances anything but ordinary.

As of this writing, the New York State Legislature is considering passing a budget well in advance of the April 1 deadline and adjourning for the rest of the year to avoid placing legislators and staff at risk of infection.

This idea has possibilities. In addition to facilitating public health, passing a budget quickly might require the Legislature to focus only on fiscal matters instead of loading the budget up with unrelated measures.

On the other hand, a rapid budget process could backfire, too. Gov. Andrew Cuomo loves nothing better than a power play. An accelerated budget process would make it easier for the Governor to insert damaging language into the budget that might go unnoticed. Given the Legislature’s understandable focus on the $7 billion budget deficit and the coronavirus, the potential for this outcome is real. Alternatively, a Legislature that is eager to leave Albany quickly due to the coronavirus might be more likely than usual to let Gov. Cuomo stuff the budget chock-full of his own legislative priorities.

It is encouraging to note that Sen. Liz Krueger—the lead sponsor of the Senate’s recreational marijuana bill—recently stated that it was unlikely that such legislation would be included in the budget. However, unlikely is not impossible.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms calls upon the Governor and the Legislature to pass a responsible budget that focuses on the fiscal needs of the state and steers clear of contentious debates. Debates over hot-button issues like marijuana and paid surrogacy can wait until the coronavirus outbreak is over.