New York state government can seem like a nonsensical place at times.
There’s a whole set of terminology devoted to the state Capitol that to non-insiders can seem confounding and, well, downright weird.
So, let’s demystify a bit of how Albany refers to itself with this short glossary of terms that seem to pop up every legislative session.
Big Ugly: It’s a big deal — quite literally. The Capitol can be a deadline-driven place, be it the budget, or the end of the legislative session in June. Laws sometimes are set to expire and need to be renewed or re-negotiated. What happens is often a lot of contentious issues are tied together in one gigantic package crammed into a single bill. This big bill is often fresh off the printer when lawmakers vote on it, sometimes very late at night or early in the morning. It’s an ugly bit of sausage making.
Budget extender: Get out your noisemakers and party hats at midnight on April 1 because that’s the start of the state’s new fiscal year. But if a budget isn’t agreed to by that point, the state government isn’t technically funded. Public employees can’t be paid, state parks can’t open, etc. What happens is the governor will send the legislature what’s known as an “extender” bill — often a provisional spending document that covers the state for a few days — until a broader deal can be hammered out. In recent years state budgets have generally passed by March 31 or around that time and the budget extender has been a rarer animal seen in the wild.
City of one million or more: No one likes getting singled out, right? Legislation in Albany often pertains to one city in particular, New York City. Some upstaters might understandably bristle at that. But it makes sense: New York City is our state’s economic engine, a cultural and economic world capital. A lot of what can happen there — like raising taxes or the minimum wage — has to be given the OK by state lawmakers in Albany (this makes New York City residents understandably bristle). Bills that refer to New York City do so in a somewhat unusual way: “A city of one million or more.” That’s either to carve the city out of a proposed law or say it applies only to New York City. But there’s also little doubt it’s referring to the city since, well, no other city has that population.
The LCA: There are really only a handful of acronyms you need to know with Albany. JCOPE (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which polices lobbying and ethics) is one. The other is the LCA or Legislative Correspondents Association. It’s the Capitol press corps, a non-profit body that is composed of print, radio, television and electronic media. It’s one of the oldest state Capitol press corps in the country. The reporters work out of a warren of offices on the third floor of the Capitol between the Assembly and Senate chambers. A bonus term to know with the press is “gaggle.” No, not a search engine. It’s a big flock of reporters surrounding a person, often a key official, governor or lawmaker, and shouting questions at them all at once.
Leaders meeting: A lot of business gets done and decisions made behind closed doors at the Capitol. The biggest meetings can often be what are known as “leaders meetings” — a face-to-face gathering of the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader. In the past these have been called the “three men in a room” meetings. That’s a bit archaic since the ascension of Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins to the majority leader post, making her the first woman in the room to hash out the budget and other high-profile measures. These meetings between the state’s triumvirate can be long and, for the reporters staking them out, ultimately fruitless for learning about what happened inside.
Message of necessity: When bills are introduced they must “age” properly for three days before lawmakers can vote on them. This is, in theory, a chance for lawmakers to read the bills (generally speaking, the legislature has a very smart staff that summarizes bills and writes memorandums breaking down the bill’s component parts. Many lawmakers rely on these briefings). But sometimes bills can’t wait three days. Think storm relief aid, or a budget bill that’s bumping up against that April 1 fiscal new year. The governor has the power to issue a message of necessity to waive that aging process. This has been to the consternation of some opponents of more high-profile legislation like the SAFE Act gun control law.
Mothership: Yes, Planet Albany can be a strange place with its own customs. And one of those customs is the requirement that lawmakers from the Assembly and Senate appear together publicly in one super committee, ostensibly to provide more transparency to the opaque state budget process. The “mothership” meeting features the top Democratic and Republican leaders in the state Assembly and Senate, plus the leaders of the budget committees for both chambers. The mothership then breaks off — just like in an alien invasion movie — into smaller committees that deal with specific areas of spending by the state.
Same-as: It takes three to tango in Albany. Before a bill can be considered for either approval or a veto by the governor, it must pass both the Assembly and Senate. Those bills must be uniformly the same. When bills match, this is referred to as a “same-as” in Albany. Often people will ask if there’s a “same-as” or companion bill in the other chamber. “We’re working on that,” is sometimes the reply.
I’m almost positive I missed a few. For the insiders here, send me some terms I didn’t cover and we’ll add them.
Updated: Here are a few that I forgot about.
The Second Floor: This is where the governor's office is located. It's also where the attorney general's office and their staff are situated as well as other departments. But when someone, a bit self-importantly, says they've got a "meeting with the Second Floor" they are talking about the governor's office and his staff.
Meet TED and ELFA: Somewhere along the line people at the Capitol began using cutesy phrases to described budget bills by their acronyms. TED is transportation and economic development. ELFA is education, labor and family assistance. There are bills that have less cute names "debt service."
Lulus: Forgetting this one is something I'm really kicking myself over. Lulus mean "in lieu of" -- basically stipends for leadership jobs in the Legislature. Those stipends have been scaled back after a pay commission ended them for most jobs, save for the top posts like speaker and majority leader.
Goo-Goos: I'm fairly certain this term was coined by Gov. Al Smith. It refers to "good-government" advocates and Smith, like a lot of people in Albany still to this day, probably thought them a bit schoolmarmish.