Budget on time but not on target
On-time budgets are the new normal in New York state, thanks to politically astute and ambitious Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But an assist is probably also in order for his immediate predecessor, David Paterson, who forced the Legislature’s hand three years ago when he inserted deep spending cuts in the routine “extender” bills that have to get passed to keep the government running during budget stalemates.
Paterson knew the Legislature wouldn’t abide a shutdown, and thus was able to have his way. Cuomo hasn’t threatened any such strong-arm tactics because he probably knew he didn’t have to.
As for the budget, it’s yet another example of the “three men in a room” negotiations that the state became famous for a generation ago, with little input from the rank and file and lots of middle-of-the-night voting — devoid of the openness Cuomo promised voters when he campaigned for governor.
But at least the state has a budget, and assuming the Assembly stayed late last night, it was passed by both chambers in enough time to meet the April 1 statutory deadline. Considering how it was in decades past, that’s not bad.
But the good-government types who are decrying the rushed, secretive process are absolutely right in their criticism. The budget it produced is obviously flawed. Education aid is a good example: How, after all Schenectady school Superintendent Laurence Spring did to show various lawmakers that his dirt-poor district was being vastly underfunded, did the Legislature vote to raise Schenectady’s operating aid by just 5.2 percent — when comparably poor Albany got a 9.5 percent raise and a relatively well-to-do suburban district like Guilderland also got 5.2 percent?
One can’t help but think that if the issue had been discussed publicly by the full Legislature, with local lawmakers given a chance to make their case to colleagues, the results would have been a bit different. Would it have taken longer? Undoubtedly.
Part of the problem has to be how relatively little time these lawmakers spend in Albany. Maybe if they weren’t always leaving town on extended recess, and demonstrated a bit more willingness to be part of the budget process, leaders might be more willing to include them. Unfortunately, the leaders don’t seem to want to spend the time, or give up the power, either. The result: a Legislature that’s clearly not as dysfunctional as it used to be, but not as accountable to the public as it might be.