Challenger outraising incumbent in Assembly race

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ALBANY — Thousands of state employees could get their next paycheck late while Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders continue to debate tax increases for millionaires and billionaires in New York’s 2021-22 budget, which deadlined at midnight Thursday.

About 39,000 state workers will be the first to be affected by the budget delay.

The state’s first Fiscal Year 2021-22 payroll is April 8 for state employees, which includes about 100,000 people.

The remaining 61,000 State University of New York and City University of New York employees will be unaffected. The university system fiscal year begins July 1.

“We have alerted the governor and the state Legislature that if a state budget is not adopted on Monday, about 39,000 state workers may have a delay in receiving their paychecks,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Thursday. “These state workers are part of the state’s institutional payroll, which is scheduled for April 8. Many work in health care and correctional facilities, among other important areas. Many are essential workers who must show up at work every day and put in long, hard hours. For the workers that get paper checks or have payments set up on direct withdrawal, I urge them to be mindful of the impact of a late state budget on their personal finances.”

The second state payroll is April 14 for 146,000 employees at administrative and executive state agencies.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, criticized Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both chambers, for failing to pass a timely budget and evade paycheck delays, especially for essential workers such as corrections officers, mental hygiene works and other professional support workers in the developmentally disabled community.

“These are folks who work a ton of hours — especially in the pandemic — don’t make a ton of money and now they’re going to have their paychecks interrupted because we can’t get our act together here and pass a budget despite $12 billion in federal aid because we want to increase taxes even more,” Ortt said. “It’s shameful. It’s exactly why (Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay) and I called for the governor to step aside because we said he couldn’t do the job, and that is more apparent than ever right now.”

The Assembly and Senate’s proposed 1% capital gains income tax, increasing the highest income tax rate from 8.82% to 9.85% for single filers earning above $1 million, couples who file jointly earning more than $2 million and adding additional tax brackets for higher earners.

Cuomo is against tax increases on New York millionaires and billionaires, but has backed a federal tax hike on the nation’s wealthy.

The tax increases are the main point of contention, Ortt said.

“We receive $12.6 billion from the federal government, which will not go out and is not going out, we have mental health workers who will not get paid come Monday, all because we can’t agree on how much to raise your taxes,” Ortt said. “That’s what’s going on — that is the hold up.

“We should not be debating about raising taxes,” he added. “We have $12 billion-plus form the feds, we should be getting that budget passed and get that money out.”

Three of the state’s 10 traditional budget bills were dropped Thursday afternoon, including the measure funding transportation and economic development. Lawmakers passed the debt service bill late Wednesday night, but have not debated or voted on the other measures as of press time.

No additional measures were expected to be voted on Thursday night as budget negotiations continue.

“We have been working day and night on the budget, and fully expect the funding to be available for state workers to get paid,” Freeman Klopott, spokesman with the state Budget Division, said in a statement Thursday night.

Republicans are uniformly against the tax hikes. Barclay, R-Pulaski, echoed his conservative counterparts and said the tax increases are unnecessary, especially considering the federal aid.

The state will receive about $12.6 billion in federal coronavirus relief over the next several years, leaving a $2.5 billion revenue shortfall of the projected $15 billion hole.

“Our revenues aren’t as bad in the state as what was predicted early on in the COVID crisis,” Barclay said. “Why are we talking about raising taxes? But the fact (Cuomo) may cave, and that’s very scary, I guess, and may illustrate he can’t govern because of all the scandals that are surrounding him.

“Is that going to affect what he negotiates and what he wants done in the budget? I think that’s troublesome and scary,” he said.

Officials would not say when the remaining budget bills will be released, how long it is expected to take to pass the budget and sticking points as legislative leaders negotiate the details.

Ortt and Barclay said budget representatives encouraged them to not wait around Thursday night, or expect to vote on additional legislation.

“I’ve had the indication there will be nothing else done today — we are already into tomorrow as far as bills,” Ortt said. “Our understanding, at least on our side, is that nothing else is going to happen before tomorrow.”

Lawmakers intend to observe Sunday’s Easter holiday.

“We have some members here, other members on Zoom,” Ortt added. “Maybe some bills will pop overnight. It seems the wee dark hours seem to fire the imagination here in Albany ... You really have (Friday), Saturday or you’re into next week as far as voting on these bills ... Otherwise, things are going to shut down, and you’ll have an even bigger problem.”

Officials have questioned how budget negotiations would proceed after Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, was one of several top Democrats to call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign last month in wake of multiple current and former aides accusing him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.

Other lawmakers have voiced concerns Cuomo would struggle to adequately negotiate the state’s finances while participating in multiple state investigations, and federal probe into multiple scandals.

The state Assembly’s separate impeachment probe was expanded Thursday to include after a Wednesday report revealing the governor sought a $4 million deal to write his pandemic memoir last year, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and used campaign and state resources to market it. The probe also examines Cuomo and his administration’s alleged underreporting of thousands of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

“The economic effects of the pandemic on the state’s finances are widespread and some sectors of our economy may take years to recover,” DiNapoli said. “Many New Yorkers are hurting, and it is important that a final agreement is reached quickly.

“I am confident the governor and state Legislature are working hard to get the budget done,” he added. “Now more than ever, we need a spending plan that bolsters our economy, fights for those that are hurting and puts us on firm fiscal ground as this pandemic continues to linger.”

State Budget Director Rob Mujica said Wednesday budget talks have persisted smoothly regardless of other state issues.

Cuomo and Mujica have not held a press conference or taken questions from reporters this week.

Ortt and Barclay said their conferences and fellow Republican colleagues have been left in the dark about the details of the budget negotiations.

“We had a lot in the past where we talked about three men in a room, but now you have three Dems on Zoom and they still can’t get it done,” Barclay said. “It’s really just disappointing ... We’re here. We want to work, we want to get this done and we’re extremely disappointed the majorities can’t get anything moving.

“We’re just sitting around waiting for information, and it’s no way to govern,” Barclay added.

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