Commentary & Opinion
12:20 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Liz Benjamin: The Big Ugly

Governor Cuomo's supposedly no drama budget is coming to a rather dramatic end.

The Senate held a rare weekend session – on Palm Sunday, no less – to pass a limited number of budget bills, while the Assembly, citing the Passover holiday that starts at sundown tonight, refused to return to Albany until Thursday.

Each side blamed the other for the lack of a final budget deal, which has remained elusive even though a so called conceptual agreement was announced by Cuomo and legislative leaders last Wednesday.

No drama was what reporters dubbed the governor's one hundred forty two point six billion dollar executive budget proposal when he unveiled it back in January.

The spending plan was clearly designed to minimize controversy and maximize the likelihood of an on-time - or perhaps even early - passage, giving Cuomo a third straight year of timely budgets to add to his growing list of accomplishments.

With the exception of a minimum wage hike and the sighting of new casinos, there wasn't much policy in Cuomo's plan for state lawmakers to get hung up on.

And the governor quickly made it clear that he was more than willing to deal with these potentially controversial issues later in the session if it cleared the way for the earliest budget in at least three decades.

There were still plenty of small things for the governor and legislative leaders to bicker over - education aid restorations, for example - but nothing that appeared to threaten to hold up the process.

As it turns out, that was far from the case.

Just as the end was in sight, non-budget issues began to creep their way into the budget talks, complicating matters considerably.

Minimum wage got put back into the mix, and all sides had agreed to a phased in increase to nine dollars an hour over three years. But what do with tipped workers remained a sticking point.

Another last minute add: Extension of the so-called millionaire's tax a year before it's scheduled to sunset.

That helps fund the $350 rebate to middle class homeowners with kids that lawmakers insisted on inserting into the budget.

But the continuation of a higher surcharge on the state’s wealthiest residents – not to mention the extension of a utility tax known as 18-a – has infuriated the once pro-Cuomo business community.

Discussions about amendments to the controversial SAFE Act didn’t help increase the pace of budget talks, either.

Cuomo has had a tough time trying to explain how changes to the required number of bullets in a magazine are merely technical fixes and not rollbacks.

The DREAM Act to help the children of immigrants get an education failed to make the final budget cut. Ditto for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana – both issues high on the priority list for Latino and African American lawmakers who are none too pleased by these developments.

So, where Cuomo was hoping for smoothing sailing this budget season, he instead has something of a mess on his hands.

There's a word in Albany parlance for a mish mash of unrelated items that all get linked together in one massive deal: The big ugly.

It sure looks like that's what's coming together down at the Capitol. In more ways than one.

Liz Benjamin is host of Capital Tonight on YNN. You can follow Capital Tonight all day long at capitaltonight.com.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.

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