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Did the public get enough time to examine state budget bills? Some groups and lawmakers say no

The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.
The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

Late Tuesday night, the New York state budget was approved a month after its due date. But the Republicans who are in the minority in the State Legislature, along with some government reform groups, said it wouldn't have hurt to wait an extra couple of days and allow the public to see what's the massive $229 billion package.

With the budget being over 30 days late, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued what’s known as a “message of necessity” to allow the thousands of pages of budget bills to be voted on as soon as they were printed.

Under the state’s constitution, bills are supposed to “age” for three days so the public has a chance to review them, unless there is an emergency circumstance.

Republicans complained, saying there wasn't enough time to fully digest details that make numerous changes to state policy.

Sen. Tom O’Mara, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked the chair of that panel, Sen. Liz Krueger, why they weren't taking the time to thoroughly review the measures.

“We're acting on these bills today, with roughly a little bit over 24 hours notice,” O’Mara told Democrats during debate on the Senate floor. “With no input from our constituents, or yours.”

Krueger agreed with O’Mara, but said it was not her decision to make. Krueger said when Democrats were in the minority in the Senate, she introduced a bill to let the budget bills “age” for 10 days, but it didn’t pass.

“Shockingly, to me and others, I don't actually get to control this city,” Krueger told O’Mara. “So the fact that I actually think we should probably let people have even longer with the bills is not the decision that we are operating under at this time.”

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said using the message of necessity for state budgets and for enacting other complex laws is an Albany tradition that goes back decades. It's been employed by both political parties, he said.

“It's baked into Albany's DNA to use every shortcut possible, when they’ve got a deal,” Horner said.

Horner said legislative leaders don’t want their members, or interest groups that might be affected, to get a chance to lobby against the provisions and derail a complicated agreement.

“They don't want to have a deal out there. And they don't want to have people reading the bills too closely,” he said. “Because they might find a mistake, and that could blow up the agreement.”

Other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, defended the rapid-fire passage of the bills. She said the media usually finds out all of the details and reports them anyway.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.