The proposed legislation, if passed, would amend the state constitution to grant the state legislature an equal role with the governor in the budget process.
However, for the measure to appear on the general election ballot in November 2021, both houses needed to pass the bill before August 3 and again next session. The legislation has remained in committee.
Last week, both lawmakers and Democratic primary winners joined forces to call on legislative leaders to bring the bill up for a vote.
Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the primary sponsor in the Assembly, said under current rules, lawmakers have to ask for the governor’s permission to amend the budget. Under the Budget Equity Act, there would be “true negotiations,” he said.
“That’s called checks and balances,” he said. “Our country was founded on that.”
Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, the lead sponsor in the State Senate, added that the budget process is difficult when the executive branch holds “nearly unilateral control over such a consequential policy document.”
“If we do not move forward with the first passage of this bill before August 3, what we’re doing is delaying the opportunity to give New Yorkers a seat at the table,” she said.
Several first-term lawmakers also chided Albany’s budget process. Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said she’s already “sick and tired of doing this budget dance.”
“Why should it have to be like this?” she said. “Why should we beg for the right to fight for our communities?”
State Senator Julia Salazar, who went through her first budget process last year, called it “utterly demoralizing.” She said budget equity should be their top priority in Albany.
“This affects every other issue and policy we all care about,” she said. “Our ability to be effective as legislators and do our jobs depends on this.”
Salazar noted that the bill is not a power grab, but rather making the legislature a co-equal branch in government.
“Without budget equity, we will continue to see the same things we saw last year and this year,” she added.
Expected newcomers to the state legislature also joined the virtual event last week, voicing that their victories mean people want a change to the status quo in Albany.
“In this moment, we really need for the governor to understand that we are his check, not his rubber stamp,” said Khaleel Anderson, the Democratic nominee for the 31st Assembly District in southeast Queens.
“New York state does not have a king, it does not have an emperor,” added Jabari Brisport, who won the primary for the 25th Senate District in central Brooklyn. “This is not a one-man show.”
Greenpoint activist Emily Gallagher, who unseated 23-term Assemblyman Joseph Lentol in the primary, said the results of the election prove that “the people of New York are hungry for more democracy.”
“The most consequential act in Albany is the least democratic process of all,” she said. “It’s dominated by Governor Cuomo and the special interests he represents.”
Gallagher said New Yorkers want bold actions and justice, rather than austerity.
“None of that can happen if the budget process remains dominated by the governor,” she added. “This is about basic democracy.”
While the lawmakers largely targeted Cuomo and the power he has over the budget process, they also asked Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to take action.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron in particular said he doesn’t believe their leaders have done a good job, accusing them of “being afraid of the governor.”
“There’s no way you should have a Democratic Senate, Democratic Assembly, two Blacks heading the bodies, and we can’t get this done,” he said. “This is a failure of leadership.”
Barron added that there’s no better time than now, given the mass protests, to bring forward the legislation.
“We’re living in radical times that call for radical solutions,” he added.