I voted against the recently enacted 2009-10 state budget. I wanted to tell you why.
The adoption of any final state budget is a long and arduous process of give and take, matching revenues and expenditures and negotiating differing priorities, which usually results in a satisfactory (though not perfect) outcome. In past years, even when the final budget has been generally satisfactory, there have been certain portions that I have opposed, and at times I have voted against some specific budget bills.
This year was different. From where I sat, the adopted 2009-10 budget did not make a passing grade. This budget embodied too many wrong choices, in too many ways, and, in good conscience, I was compelled to vote against it in its entirety.
Make no mistake. These are difficult times. Faced with a national, even global, recession of historic proportions, state governments across the nation are faced with generally declining revenues. The revenue decline was most acute here in New York State where Wall Street and the financial sector historically contribute a mighty share to state coffers. When the Governor proposed his budget in December for the April 1, 2009 – March 31, 2010, state fiscal year, he was faced with a $13.7 billion gap between anticipated expenditures and anticipated revenues, and the projected gap worsened over time.
But despite the unanticipated availability of federal stimulus funds to fill some of the gaps in state program funding, the adopted budget went beyond that, and beyond what the Governor had proposed, by increasing state revenues to a level that increased overall state spending to unprecedented levels. The addition by the Legislature of an increase in the state personal income tax for higher earners and many small businesses, combined with the Governor’s proposals to increase the “18-A” assessment on utilities and telecommunications (which will end up on our residential and business utility and phone bills), and the imposition of and increases in a whole host of new and existing taxes and fees resulted in bringing the size of the state budget to $131.8 billion, including federal stimulus funding, an 8.7 percent increase over last year’s spending.
Extracting such sums from the state’s already stagnant economy will impair our ability to recover from the current recession and make it even more difficult for upstate areas that are already struggling to make up economic ground. Extracting increased fees and taxes on everything from driver’s licenses to cell phone bills directly or indirectly from individual New Yorkers will heighten pressures on household budgets, too many of which are already being squeezed by rising costs and frozen wages, reduced working hours or unemployment.
I am not saying that it is easy, especially in economic times like these, to balance the opposing forces of increasing needs and declining revenues. Doing so demands that the long view be taken and some very hard choices made. Instead, in my view, a state budget was adopted that, in the words of the State Comptroller, “does not adequately respond to today’s economic realities.” That, in a nutshell, is why I voted “no.”