Capitol Watch: Budget hearings, offshore drilling debate
By CHRIS CAROLA and DAVID KLEPPER
Feb. 11, 2018
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, legislators in Albany are wrapping up a long series of hearings on the state budget, and the state Assembly takes a look at the Trump administration's plan to expand offshore drilling, possibly off Long Island.
A look at stories making news:
The ongoing series of 13 joint state budget hearings in Albany is entering the home stretch, with hearings scheduled Monday for health and Medicaid, followed Tuesday by mental health. The environmental conservation hearing originally scheduled for this past Wednesday was postponed because of snow and has been rescheduled for Feb. 27.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $168 billion budget proposal includes more than $70 billion for the state's Medicaid program, a 2.5 percent increase over the current budget. He is also proposing to boost the Department of Health's budget by 5.3 percent to more than $5.3 billion.
The Democrat wants to create a health care shortfall fund to cover costs of health services cut by the Trump administration. Cuomo says the fund initially will contain proceeds garnered when a nonprofit health insurer converts to a for-profit entity. Under state law, 90 percent of proceeds from such a conversion go to the state.
For mental hygiene, Cuomo wants to spend $5.4 billion, a 4.2 percent increase, on the five state agencies that provide services for people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or addictions. The funding proposal includes another $26 million for the state office that operates programs pertaining to the opioid crisis.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate are developing their own budget plans before getting down to negotiations with the governor's office. The chambers have released the legislative budget schedule, which starts at the end of February with the release of their economic and revenue reports.
Joint conference committees will start in mid-March, with budget bills scheduled to be taken up in each chamber a few days before the state budget's April 1 deadline.
Don't expect much love for offshore drilling at a Valentine's Day hearing on the Trump administration's plan to expand natural gas and oil extraction off the U.S. coast.
Wednesday's state Assembly hearing will be held in Smithtown on Long Island.
Last month, the U.S. Interior Department announced plans to lease offshore areas for drilling.
State officials immediately objected, warning of devastating effects on the fishing industry, water quality and the ocean environment. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has joined counterparts from 11 other states on a letter urging federal officials to reconsider.
SPECIAL ELECTIONS SET
April 24 has been set as the day for special elections to fill 11 vacant seats in the 263-member Legislature.
Nine of the seats are in the Assembly, with three representing Long Island, two in the capital region and one each in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Buffalo.
Two seats are up for grabs in the Senate, one representing Westchester County and the other in the Bronx.
The vacancies occurred after the former lawmakers from those districts resigned. Most were elected to other offices including the state Senate, the New York City Council or local government positions. Former Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez of Schoharie County stepped down after being named regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.