‘The Big Ugly’: north country lawmakers criticize state budget bill

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 4:17 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - North country lawmakers are criticizing the process behind the state’s $229 billion budget deal. It was agreed upon five days ago and is expected to be passed by the legislature in a matter of hours.

“This is like cramming for a test,” said Assemblyman Scott Gray (R. - 116th District).

North country lawmakers have been working late nights and early mornings to review state budget bills before debates.

When we spoke with Gray, he had just finished reviewing what lawmakers call “The Big Ugly.” It’s a 174-page budget bill loaded with policies including a major crackdown on cannabis stores and a minimum-wage increase.

It also includes bail reform changes allowing judges more discretion on offenses that allow bail. However, after reading it, state Senator Mark Walczyk (R. - 49th District) doesn’t believe it’ll do much.

“Obviously, it’s always better to have these things in the light of day, and to talk to the judges, and to talk to the district attorneys about what the actual impact will be, but the way we’re reading it right now is this really will have no impact on public safety. It might not even be really helpful for judges who need the discretion to place bail,” said Walczyk.

Bills typically cannot be voted on until three days after they’re introduced. But Hochul, like governors before her, waived that requirement.

The sixth budget extender was passed Monday and expires Thursday. Now state lawmakers are asking, ‘What’s the rush?’

“It’s not like our backs are against the wall. We pass an extender, we’re continuing operations of the state, we have plenty of time to prepare the documents,” said Gray.

“We’re sitting trying to go over, research the bill in a short period of time before we come back and vote on the bill. It’s always been that way, and it just doesn’t have to be that way,” said Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District).

“The budget is a month late, but suddenly Democrats feel the need to rush things through without any public vetting. The legally required three-day aging period exists for a reason – so New Yorkers can see what we’re doing. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the state budget works in Albany. Whether it’s the April 1st deadline or legally required transparency laws, Democrats treat open government and public input as inconveniences. It’s the worst way to govern and an insult to the people of New York,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay.

The budget is expected to pass early Wednesday morning.