The state budget should tackle relief for renters and landlords, help spur infrastructure projects meant to address climate change and changes to the state's nursing home regulations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said at a news conference.
But whether the spending plan can be put to bed by next week is up in the air, Cuomo said Wednesday, pointing to the recent COVID-19 diagnosis of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
"It's going to complicate the budget process," Cuomo said at a news conference, adding the speaker is "going to be just fine, I'm sure."
Heastie on Tuesday announced he had received a positive COVID-19 test result and is quarantining in the Albany area to continue working. Heastie reported having mild symptoms.
Cuomo's suggestion the COVID-19 diagnosis and quarantining of the speaker's staff would lead to a delay in a basic function of the state government was rebuked by Heastie via a quarantine tweet.
"My COVID diagnosis and any quarantine of staff will not affect budget negotiations," Heastie posted.
Responding in real-time to that tweet, Cuomo in essence dismissed the claim, saying video conferencing chats have been less than ideal.
It could very well be a bit of budget theater, even in an age of social distancing, as lawmakers and Cuomo negotiate a spending plan that has received $12.5 billion in federal aid to offset pandemic related revenue losses in the last year.
Perhaps the most substantial public disagreement is over increasing taxes on richer New Yorkers, something Democratic lawmakers are eager to do and Cuomo's top budget aide has said is not necessary given the recovering economy.
The spending plan is expected to pass by April 1, the start of the state's fiscal year. Having budgets in place by then has had totemic significance for Cuomo, which he has celebrated in previous years with gifts like specialized baseballs for a "grand slam" of four budgets in a row by the date.
"We're going to try to get it done April 1, but I'm not going to risk public health to get it done," Cuomo said. "Nothing is easy. COVID has even complicated the budget process."
The top line details of the state budget are usually hashed out with the governor and the top leaders of the majority conferences in the state Senate and Assembly — known in Albany parlance as "three men in a room" (the addition of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in recent years has since changed the term to a less gendered phrase).
Only this year is also different as Cuomo is facing calls from nearly all Democrats in the state that he resign amid allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.
Unlike Heastie's COVID-19 diagnosis, the allegations won't affect his ability to govern, Cuomo said on Wednesday.
"It's clearly not true," Cuomo said when asked if the problems he faces are a distraction. "The nature of being governor is there are always multiple situation to deal with."
Still, the state's top Democrats do not seem to be talking with Cuomo at the moment, or even before the speaker became the latest New Yorker to contract COVID-19.
Heastie last week in a discussion with reporters said he had not spoken with the governor in several weeks, save for a text exchange about vaccine distribution.