New York state budget negotiations kicked off in earnest on Monday with the landing of what is known as the "mothership."

Known officially as the General Conference Committee, the panel of legislative leaders will drive the process of negotiations toward a deal with Gov. Kathy Hochul.

In what is intended as a display of transparency, leaders of the state Senate and Assembly met to brief the public on where they stand heading into negotiations that from here on out will largely take place behind closed doors.

Ten days from now is the last scheduled legislative session day before the Easter weekend.

“Ten days in Albany time is a lifetime,” state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters after that initial meeting.

The following Monday, April 1, is the budget deadline. Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed that as of Monday morning, they have kicked off discussions with Hochul.

“We had a preliminary meeting this morning, very preliminary,” Stewart-Cousins said. "Just talking about how we could possibly proceed so that we have an on-time budget.”

There is much to discuss. The governor’s $233 billion budget proposal is less than the $246.2 billion budget proposed by the Legislature. The missing link is tax hikes on the state's highest earners and other revenue raisers.

Neither one-house budget includes the elimination of "Save Harmless," which ensures schools don’t see a drop in Foundation Aid.

Heastie downplayed those differences.

“I wouldn’t say we’re in disagreement with the governor,” he said. "The amounts are different, but at some point, we’ll all get to a place where we’re all comfortable.”

Meanwhile, also drawing attention just days away from that budget deadline are reports from last week, first disclosed by NY Focus, that Speaker Heastie has been allegedly romantically involved with a woman who is also lobbyist.

Addressing those reports, he had this to say to reporters:

“I’m not talking about my personal life. I was very clear that protocols are in place and that’s all ya’ll need to be comfortable. My life will never be in conflict with my job. I am never again addressing my personal life,” he said.

Asked if he intended to elaborate on what those protocols look like as former state elected officials have done in the past, the speaker declined to get into specifics.

As for the one-house budgets themselves, Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt expressed concerns about public safety and criticizing high spending.

“The Senate one-house — I don’t believe and our conference doesn’t believe — that it addresses certainly the issue of affordability," he said.

Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay echoing those concerns.

“This is an unsustainable path and it is no wonder people are leaving New York state,” he said. 

This panel of leaders  will continue meeting over the next few weeks as the process ideally moves closer to a deal with the governor by April 1.

The governor has said heading into negotiations that raising income taxes as proposed in both one-houses is a non starter. Asked by reporters if the Legislature had established any such boundaries, Heastie told reporters for him that is not the cast.

“I don’t believe in drawing lines in the sand. You stake out your position and go from there,” he said.