ALBANY—The Democrats in the majority of the State Senate might delay the budget process because, of all things, they don’t have the staff and resources to draft and pass a budget resolution by the end of this week.
This has not escaped the attention of their opponents.
Walking out of a State Senate press conference on Thursday, Senator Senator Kemp Hannon, a Republican, openly doubted the new Democratic majority's ability to create a one-house budget by the end of this week.
"They still don't have a finance secretary. How will they be able to do it?" Hannon said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said that his chamber will be able to come up with a budget by the end of the week, no problem. But people on both sides of the aisle, around the Capitol, have been asking whether the Senate has the basic staff capability of doing the same.
The majority got off to a slow legislative start as they scrambled to hire staff and settle in to the business of governing–recall that Malcolm Smith's ascendance to majority leader was not ensured until January 6–and are still finding their legs. (Plans to act on the MTA's budget deficit by the end of last week, for example, did not come to fruition.)
"We intend to have a budget resolution by the end of this week," said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Smith.
Once the Senate and Assembly pass one-house budgets, the differences between them are hashed out in public conference committees. At least that's how it's worked in past years.
I asked Carl Kruger, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, whether he was going to match the Assembly's time table.
"Okay. I think we've been meeting every night," he said. "We've been and will be meeting over the weekend. I think that from a political vantage point I'm very excited to see what the Assembly views as the use of the stimulus funds and what it will mean to close the $14 billion hole, and how they are going to come up with their numbers. We're working. We're working diligently. We're working very, very hard. People are meeting. Staff has been burning the midnight oil, and I'm confident that at the end of the day we will be in a good position."
I told Kruger what Hannon had said.
"I don't know why he would say that," Kruger said. I asked again whether the Senate would be ready when the Assembly is.
"This is the Senate, and that's the Assembly. They're two separate houses, and that's where it's at. So what Shelly and the Assembly does, does not influence what we do. I think we've covered it. Do you have any other questions?"
UPDATE: Austin Shafran just said at a weekly State Senate briefing that the "intention is to do a resolution" as opposed to a full-blown budget by either Wednesday or Thursday. He was asked how much detail it would contain, specifically whether it would contain school aid breakdowns by district.
"I don't know how specific it's going to be," he said.