Budget negotiations in Albany are always shrouded in secrecy.
The Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker would usually be meeting behind closed doors with the governor, only to pop out briefly to conference with members on new developments.
This process coined the term “three men in a room” and until Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first woman to lead the State Senate, this was mostly true. It was behind these closed doors that three of the the most powerful leaders in the state would meet to hash out spending and policy details that would steer New York’s future.
Reporters would often stand packed outside the governor’s office waiting for one of the legislative leaders to exit, immediately bombarding them with questions about the status of budget negotiations. What were the sticking points? When were they expecting a finalized deal?
Former Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan used to take the stairs two at time, shouting updates to reporters quickly following after him.
However, this year, COVID-19 restrictions kept the legislative leaders and governor from meeting in person. And it kept reporters from gathering outside doorways working to gain updates on budget bills.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay criticized the lack of transparency and pointed to the potential size of the state’s budget, which could top $200 billion for the first time in New York’s history.
“I might want to do it in secret too, because as soon New Yorkers learn these details, I think you're gonna see a lot of New Yorkers continue, unfortunately, to flee New York,” Barclay said. “But that's why they don't want to have transparency. Because they don't want people to know what what they're doing down here in Albany.”
Important to note, however, when the roles were reversed in the State Senate and Republicans controlled the chamber, the same secrecy darkened budget negotiations.
But the Capitol was quiet on Wednesday night. A night when advocates would be making their last push for big-ticket items, exhausted legislative staff would be darting between offices, and most settled in for a long night ahead.
Despite this lack of action, Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald assured that budget negotiations are continuing this year, albeit behind virtual “closed doors.”
“We don't have the usual aroma that permeates the Capitol each year,” McDonald said. “They usually have the empty pizza boxes, the greasy chicken wing containers hanging around in the hallways. We don't have that going on this year. It’s pretty much a lot of people are working from home. But trust me, there's still a lot of negotiations going on.”