Health Update Logo
From the New York State Assembly
Health Committee  black square  August, 2001

Sheldon Silver, Speaker  white square  Richard N. Gottfried, Chair
The "Bare Bones" Budget
– and What’s Next
The State Legislature has passed a "bare bones" budget that leaves out many things important to legislators –– and many things important to the Governor. Our goal is to break the budget deadlock in Albany and get Gov. Pataki to the negotiating table for a "supplemental budget" bill that will meet New Yorkers’ needs for health care, education, economic development and other important programs.

To do that, we took his proposed budget –– and cut. We eliminated new programs he proposed, dropped funding for local projects he wants, deleted authority to pay out unspent money from last year’s budget ("reappro-priations"), took out proposed tax cuts, and more.

There is no guarantee that this will succeed in getting Gov. Pataki to the table. But it became clear that this was the only way to avoid what we were headed for: the disaster of a whole year with no budget at all.

How We Got to This Point

Year after year, the State budget in Albany is late because the Governor, the Assembly and the Senate dig in their heels over issues that are critically important to them and their constituents. Issues like education, health care and job development, or cutting spending and taxes.

Because we care a lot about what’s on the table, no one wants to give up what they’re fighting for. And so we glare at each other until enough pressure builds to force agreements.

Meanwhile, the Governor and the Legislature enact month-to-month extenders of last year’s spending levels for routine services and programs. A lot of important things are left out of these extenders. But at least the lights stay on in state offices, and checks for Medicaid keep going out, until the budget gets done.

But this year, Gov. Pataki said it was OK with him if we never adopted a budget.

Why? Next year is a gubernatorial election year. If he can stop the Legislature from doing more for needs like education or health care this year, there will be about $4 billion saved up for his budget in the election year. Governors have done this for decades, but not on this massive scale. So if we went this whole year month-to-month without restoring his cuts or expanding programs, he’d be happy.

Of course, other people would be outraged. People who care about schools know that if the State school aid formula were followed, our schools would get nearly $1.5 billion more than they got last year. Instead, the Governor only wants to give them $382 million more. The Assembly wants $1.7 billion more. Monthly extenders would yield zero more.

Funding for hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, community health centers, HIV prevention and services, family planning, school health clinics, and other programs would similarly suffer with budget extenders instead of a real budget.

In theory, the Assembly and Senate could negotiate a budget without the Governor. But the Assembly doesn’t want to do that, for good reason. We did that in 1998, and Gov. Pataki line-item vetoed $1.3 billion the Legislature had added to the budget — most of it in programs the Assembly had fought for, including AIDS services and cancer programs. This year, he indicated he’d do the same.

Either road — a year of extenders, or massive Governor’s vetoes — would mean drastic, unacceptable damage to a host of important programs.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The "bare bones" budget, crafted from the Governor’s submitted budget, is now the law. It didn’t need the Governor’s signature; he can only line-item veto additions to his budget, and we didn’t add anything. The next step is to negotiate and pass a supplemental budget bill — provided for in the State Constitution — to deal with educating our children, the health care staffing crisis, creating jobs, and other needs.

Years ago, the Legislature adopted budgets in a similar way. The Governor’s proposed budget would be enacted, with little change, in March, before the start of the new fiscal year. Controversial issues like school aid or new programs were dealt with later, in the supplemental budget bill.

Passing this bare bones budget changes the focus of public debate. People have been asking, "When will we get a budget?" – a question that pressures the Legislature to give in to the Governor’s proposed cuts. Now people can focus on the more important question: "What will be in the supplemental budget?"

And now that we have the Governor’s attention, we have a good chance of getting him to the table for a reasonable good-faith negotiation.

Everyone who cares about what is at stake must be more vocal and active than ever.

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