3 weeks ago

We asked lawmakers. Eclipse or budget: What will come first?

With help from Shawn Ness

New from New York

Happening now:

  • The Legislature is back. And no, there isn’t a budget deal.
  • What lawmakers think of Rebecca Lobo’s comments about Albany.
  • Republicans hosted an antisemitism awareness rally.
  • A ban on ‘dry’ towns?


Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the plan is to be in the Capitol on Monday despite the eclipse. Other legislators noted that many don't want to miss the once-in-a-generation event.

WILL BUDGET BEAT OUT ECLIPSE?: The stars are aligning — and that’s good or bad news for the budget, depending on who you ask.

Well, actually, it’s just one star (the sun) that’s set to line up with the moon on Monday. And the celestial event could be too much for some lawmakers to bear while balancing budget negotiations. Some are asking whether they should even have session on Monday.

“I've heard a lot of people wanting to not meet” during the eclipse, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn Democrat, said.

“It’s not just lawmakers saying that. There’s lots of people asking the same thing — everybody wants to be out,” state Sen. Roxanne Persaud, a Brooklyn Democrat, quipped.

On Monday, Playbook wrote how Gov. Kathy Hochul blamed the now-two-days late budget on the Easter Bunny: “If you did not have Easter Sunday being the deadline, I think we could have met it. I really do,” she said.

Now, there’s grumblings that Monday’s eclipse warrants another day off.

Why? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and large gatherings are a good way for the members to score points with constituents if they are back home with them rather than plugging away on an already late state budget.

But Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins spoke with Playbook and shot that idea down, for now: “The plan so far is to be here on Monday.” And Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie: “We may have to go look at it on the roof.”

Another lawmaker, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, was firm in his prediction: The eclipse will come and go before a budget deal is reached.

“Maybe seeing the eclipse will inspire us to get this job done,” he said. And state Sen. Liz Krueger opined: “Maybe there's some magic to [the eclipse and budget] being born together.”

But forget outer space.

The delaying power of religious holidays could also factor in the budget timeline. Lawmakers plan to take off for Eid on April 10 and 11. And Passover means there won’t be any session at all during the third week of April.

So even if the lawmakers hold a session during eclipse day, there are six days of session left of April after tomorrow to make a deal.

“I fully believe we will get this done in the month of April,” Stewart-Cousins told Playbook. Jason Beeferman

TV analyst and former WNBA star Rebecca Lobo rolled back her disparaging comments about Albany. Lawmakers talked about their favorite things to do in the city.

OH, ALBANY: Former WNBA star and ESPN TV analyst Rebecca Lobo’s aggression against New York’s capital city won’t stand.

Lobo trashed the town, which was hosting parts of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, for not having a lot to do. Lobo would later back track in a post on Instagram.

For Albanians, historically a sensitive group whenever out-of-towners mock Smallbany, the damage was already done. War Room Tavern owner and PR man Todd Shapiro was so incensed he called for the city’s bars and restaurants to cancel their ESPN subscriptions.

But what about the people who have to travel to Albany six months out of the year? Playbook did a (very) informal poll of state lawmakers who agreed Lobo committed a foul.

“There are so many great things to do in Albany,” Rochester Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Cooney said. “In fact, Albany is the center of the universe. You can get anywhere you want from Albany in like three hours. You can go to the Adirondacks.”

State Sen. John Mannion, a Democrat from the basketball-crazy Syracuse area who was elected four years ago, said he’s never been bored, noting Albany has a proliferation of Irish bars.

“I’ve found there’s a lot to do when my family comes down,” he said. “We make sure we partake in different arts activities or enjoy the restaurants.”

Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, an established connoisseur of Albany’s karaoke offerings, acknowledged Lobo’s comment made on a Monday night may have been a bit understandable.

“She might be right about Mondays,” Rivera, a Democrat, said. “There are a lot of places closed on Monday.”

But he defended the food options, many of which are within walking distance of the Capitol.

“There’s actually really good food choices here in Albany,” he said. “Savoy Taproom. The Delaware. Copper Crow. Rain is a good one on a Friday night, too. Most of the places I walk to are the ones that I love.” — Nick Reisman

ISRAELI HOSTAGES: The Republican conference held a bipartisan rally to show support for all hostages in Hamas captivity to be released and to raise awareness of a rise in antisemitism.

“We are the indigenous people,” GOP Assemblymember Ari Brown, a Jewish lawmaker from Long Island, said. “And these are our children that are held hostage today. They must be set free.”

The legislators and activists who attended were led in a prayer for peace by a local Jewish community leader.

“They should be returned to their families. If they are dead, their bodies should be returned to their families, so that we can pay their respects so that we can say goodbye,” Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said at the event.

State Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican from Long Island, said he wants to hold those that do not show support to Israel accountable. Several Democrats from across the state also attended the event.

“Those who will not support the efforts of bringing these hostages home, let's hold them accountable. As New Yorkers, as warriors, as the people who are called on to do more than just talk, let's come together,” Martins said. — Shawn Ness

HEASTIE ON HOUSING: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said certain tweaks to the 2019 rent-regulation reforms are on the table in budget talks, but said the changes being considered will not go as far as “rolling back” the laws.

Specifically, lawmakers are looking at changes to how much landlords can raise rents after making apartment improvements — allowances that were significantly curtailed in the 2019 reforms.

“Individual apartment improvements has been raised at the table,” Heastie told reporters Tuesday.

“The question of trying to get the apartments that have not been put back online because, I’d say, the landlords don’t want to spend the money to put the apartments back online. Those are the type of questions we’re having, but rolling back 2019 — no.”

Real estate groups have been pushing more significant changes to the rent reforms, but that effort has faced staunch pushback from tenant groups and left-leaning legislators.

But lawmakers appear open to considering more modest tweaks — if they come as part of a larger package that also bolsters tenant protections.

The Senate’s one-house resolution, for example, said the body’s Democratic majority is “open to further discussing raising the current cap on individual apartment improvements (IAIs) as part of a comprehensive housing package that includes the core principles of Good Cause Eviction.” — Janaki Chadha

Mayor Eric Adams briefly mentioned potentially cutting all of his administration's proposed budget cuts during a press briefing.

BUDGET DANCE: The mayor expressed an interest in nixing all of his proposed budget cuts today.

His comments came during a press briefing where Adams was asked about a report from the City Council that argued there is enough money in the budget to completely undo the spending reductions mandated by City Hall.

“I pray to God every day that they found a pot of money that can resolve the budget issues,” Adams said. “We don’t want to make cuts. We do not want to take away services. And if … when they sit down with [the budget director], they have a way to do this, we are open to hearing that.”

The Council identified north of $6 billion of unaccounted-for resources in the upcoming budget that could be used to reverse cuts, end a looming fiscal cliff and add to the city’s reserves. — Joe Anuta

SCHOOLS CHIEF IN ALBANY: Schools Chancellor David Banks traveled to Albany today to persuade state lawmakers to let Mayor Eric Adams continue running the school system.

Banks met with state Sen. John Liu, who heads the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, as well as Assembly Education Chair Michael Benedetto and Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer among others. He’s meeting with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Stewart-Cousins this afternoon.

“We think that the mayor, Eric Adams, in many ways has earned to be able to have an extension of this,” Banks told reporters during a gaggle. “We’ve been delivering for New Yorkers, and we want to continue to do that work.”

Banks also testified before legislators in Albany earlier this year.

The visit comes as lawmakers and Hochul continue to hammer out details of the final budget. State education officials are also expected to release their long-awaited report on mayoral control early next week. (They requested and received an extension from the Legislature, according to a spokesperson).

Banks told reporters he’s “anxiously awaiting” to see the report. He insisted the study is not just a reflection of public hearings officials held citywide but a “historical perspective” on mayoral control.

Lawmakers have also said they will consider how Adams approaches a state law mandating lower class sizes as they deliberate on mayoral control. But Banks insisted the two won’t be tied.

“I think mayoral control… in many ways stands on its own because it’s broader than any one particular issue,” he said, adding that class size is “a hot topic right now.” — Madina Touré and Nick Reisman

State Sen. James Skoufis advanced a bill through committee that would ban the state's dry towns.

SENATE MOVES TO BAN DRY TOWNS: The state Senate’s Investigation and Government Operations Committee advanced a bill today that would allow the sale of alcohol in New York’s dry towns.

“The restaurants and potential bars and other on-premises establishments and liquor stores that would want to do business in these towns, they are implicitly looking at us to do business in these communities,” said state Sen. James Skoufis, the committee’s Democratic chair.

Towns and cities are allowed to ban alcohol sales via referendums. A few have ended their local prohibitions in recent years, meaning there are only six remaining completely dry places — the largest being the 2,200 town of Caneadea in Allegany County — though a few dozen others have rules that limit alcohol to places like hotels.

“It’s a vestige, as are a lot of our Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, of Prohibition-era ridiculousness,” Skoufis said. — Bill Mahoney

NEW CENTRAL HUDSON CEO: The utility serving more than 300,000 electric customers and 84,000 natural gas customers in the Hudson Valley announced a new CEO today.

Stephanie Raymond will take over as president and transition into the full president and CEO role in October once Chris Capone retires.

Capone took over, postponing his retirement, after the board ousted Charles Freni as CEO last year. Freni’s tenure ended abruptly amid fallout from billing issues at the utility that sparked public outcry and an investigation and action by state regulators.

Raymond was most recently the CEO of PPL Electric Utilities Corporation, a Pennsylvania utility serving 1.4 million electric customers. Raymond was there for more than a decade in various roles after working in telecommunications. She left PPL in September 2023 after the utility dealt with its own major billing issues.

Central Hudson highlighted Raymond’s efforts to improve grid reliability and customer satisfaction scores. The search committee was aware of the billing issues that were “effectively resolved” during Raymond’s tenure, said spokesperson Joe Jenkins.

“Her experience leading and managing through those challenges was viewed as a strength,” Jenkins said. “Central Hudson’s billing system is currently performing at levels similar or better than its previous system and we believe Stephanie’s experience in this area will help us continue to rebuild trust with our customers as we move forward.”  — Marie J. French

CLIMATE SUPERFUND: A collection of environmental justice groups held a rally in the Capitol today to urge Hochul to support a $3 billion climate superfund paid by big oil corporations.

The bill would also include $1 billion for disadvantaged communities that have been hit by flooding and extreme heat.

It’s the trust that is given to us that we have to take care of it [the Earth]. We have to deliver it to our students,” Sohaib Chekima, a professor at Union College, said during the event.

“We believe that God created us on this Earth as its custodians, not the owners. We act as if this is ours. We are privileged. The governor has to understand the leadership position is not one of privilege, it’s a responsibility that she’s assumed.” — Shawn Ness

— Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Department of Justice to go after retail thieves under the RICO act. (State of Politics)

— The man accused of murdering an NYPD officer has been indicted with murder in a Queens court. (Newsday)

— Turkey’s consul general sent a letter to the state Senate Finance Committee urging them not to commemorate the end of a major conflict in Cyprus. (Times Union)

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