Albany Passes Historic On-Time Budget Amid Protests

03/31/2011 09:44 am ET | Updated May 31, 2011
  • Jill Colvin

MANHATTAN — The state legislature voted to pass an on-time budget in the early morning hours Thursday, overshadowing the opposition of hundreds of protesters whose voices could be heard ringing through the State Capitol's halls.

The State Assembly cast its final vote just after 1 a.m. on the $132.5 billion budget plan, which slashes state spending across the board.

"Tonight the Legislature not only passed an on-time budget, but a historic and transformational budget for the people of the state of New York," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement just after the vote.

The budget, which Cuomo has hailed as representing a new era in Albany, reduces spending by more than two percent, including a $1.3 billion cut to local school aid.

Negotiations over recent weeks had restored about $250 million in cuts from the governor's original executive budget. But it wasn't until late Wednesday night that lawmakers finally came to an agreement about how to divide restorations between district schools. New York City will now receive $51 million, while upstate schools will get $134 million, the AP reported.

Legislators scrambled — but failed — to pass the budget by midnight Wednesday to earn the title of having passed the first early budget since 1983.

But proponents didn't complain.

"I think we should all be very proud," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, before the body's session ended at 11:50 p.m. "This budget has chartered a new course," he said.

The Assembly finally adjourned at 1:08 a.m.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who made significant compromises, including giving up the so-called "Millionaires' Tax" on high-income earners, described the budget as "a sobering one."

He said he hoped the restorations would at least help soften the blow on working families, students, seniors and other vulnerable groups. And he credited Cuomo's leadership with ushering in the budget on time.

Meanwhile, hundreds of activists flocked to the Capitol to voice their opposition, particularly to cuts to education and social services spending. Their chants were so loud that they could be heard echoing through the Assembly and Senate chambers as members debated and cast their votes.

"New Yorkers from every part of the state are outraged that the budget will sacrifice our kids' education in order to give another tax cut to millionaires," Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, said in a statement.

Ron Deutsch, the executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, also favored extending the tax.

"His fiscal agenda is more in line with Fox News than with a progressive state like New York," Deutsch said of the governor, accusing him of "pushed his agenda through the legislature like a loCuomotive, knocking down any opposition in his way."

Following the vote, some of the protesters tried to camp out overnight, curling up in hallways next to colorful placards, photos posted online showed.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said he wished that Albany could have done more to protect the state's most vulnerable citizens and restore more in education aid.

"The only reason I voted this," he said, was "because I trust and have faith in the governor that these choices that we're making today will put us on the road to fiscal prosperity," he said.