ALBANY —Oswego County Assemblyman Will Barclay was one of state 12 lawmakers selected to take part in marathon bipartisan spending and revenue negotiations this week as the April 1 state budget deadline looms.
The Budget General Conference Committee — more commonly known by its cognomen “the mothership” — is tasked to hammer out a deal between the state Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democrats all, with input from Republicans in the minority conference.
Barclay, R-Pulaski, spoke to The Palladium-Times on Thursday on the heels of another hours-long session in the Legislature chambers where the nine-term Assemblyman led debate representing his constituents, his Republican colleagues and upstate interests at large.
“We’ve been very clear on our priorities and our position,” Barclay said, voicing concern that any spending increase above 2 percent — a 2.5 percent increase is currently under consideration — is too much, exacerbated by more than a billion dollars in proposed tax increases.
“It’s more of the tax-and-spend that we see too much of in Albany,” Barclay said.
The state’s Extreme Weather Funding program, the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement program (CHIPS), and a more equitable education aid formula are some of the issues Barclay said he’s attempting to bring to the front burner but despite his efforts, the Albany quagmire again looks poised to swallow dissenting voices.
“We’ve never done this before and [Legislature Republicans] pushed for it because we wanted transparency,” Barclay said, referring to the “mothership” committee. “It’s better than nothing but still far from a perfect system.”
While Capitol observers had hoped Dems taking control of the state Senate might open up budget talks to greater sunlight, once the mothership disbands and lawmakers go back to their respective conferences, Barclay predicts final budget numbers will again come down to the two legislative leaders and Cuomo meeting behind closed doors.
“Ultimately, it’s still the three men in a room process where the real horsetrading goes on,” Barclay said.
For the better part of two decades, an ad-hoc alliance of Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Brunswick, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Brooklyn, and whomever occupied the governor’s office at the time formed the “three men in a room,” notoriously cobbling together the state’s financials with little to no outside oversight.
Bruno retired from the Senate in 2008 (and was later convicted of mail and wire fraud) and Silver was expelled from the Assembly in 2015 (per his conviction on federal corruption charges) but while the players may change, the game stays the same.
“[Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers] was always railing against three men in a room, but she’s been pretty quiet on it lately,” Barclay said. Stewart-Cousins was a vocal critic of the Republican-controlled Senate but was elevated earlier this year to the leadership position with the house’s majority swap.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, told The Palladium-Times on Thursday that there was “no indication that the secretive, closed-door negotiations are going to improve in 2019.”
“Shutting the door to minority conferences ignores important ideas, upstate perspectives, and the millions of people we represent. The new political dynamic at the Capitol has done nothing to improve Albany's infamous dysfunction,” Kolb said.