Lifton: Assembly’s Reform Plan to End State Budget Gridlock Passes

Legislation restores constitutional balance to budget process
February 16, 2005

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF-Tompkins/Cortland) announced that a proposed constitutional amendment and legislation she sponsored to ensure that responsible state budgets are adopted on-time every year passed the Assembly (A.1, A.2). The budget reform plan also includes a second constitutional amendment and legislation to restore the balance of powers in the budget process that was undermined by a recent court decision (A.4630, A.4631).

"It’s no secret that the state’s budget-crafting system needs to be improved so it works for each and every New Yorker," Lifton said. "This plan will bring transparency, accountability and efficiency to the process, and above all, will help ensure on-time budgets in the years to come."

The budget reform proposal would:

  • move the start of New York’s fiscal year from April 1 to May 1 to allow for better revenue and spending projections and institute provisions to instill greater accountability in the process;
  • implement a contingency budget as a last resort if no spending plan is passed by May 1;
  • require a two-year appropriation for education aid that will help schools stay a step ahead by finally giving them the information they need, when they need it; and
  • create a reserve fund in the state constitution to ensure sufficient funds exist for the payment of education aid in May and June of each year.

The Senate passed the Assembly’s budget reform plan – it now awaits the governor’s signature – but the Senate has not passed the constitutional amendment legislation. "I strongly urge the Senate to re-pass the constitutional amendment as soon as possible so it will be sure to go before the voters this November 8th," Lifton said.

Restoring the balance of power in the budget process

A decision by the state’s highest court has dramatically altered the checks and balances of state government – giving the governor a near stranglehold over the budget process. The Court of Appeals decision makes it much harder for the Legislature to restore the governor’s cuts or prevent him from altering or sidestepping existing law.

Now, the governor is exploiting his newfound power by releasing a contingency budget only three days after he finished unveiling his budget proposal. The fine print in the contingency budget gives the governor total power to suspend, alter or modify any law, rule or regulation relating to state funding – an astonishing power grab that stands the constitution on its head.

"This contingency budget is further evidence of the governor’s effort to monopolize the budget process, dictating state spending and laws without input from citizens and their representatives in the Legislature," Lifton said. "While the Assembly stands ready to negotiate a timely and fair budget, the governor has shown no interest in compromise, and is attempting to seize total power."

Lifton said the Assembly’s new legislation and constitutional amendment to restore the balance of budget powers will:

  • require proposed spending to be consistent with existing law or proposed legislation, and when a consistency question arises, a fast-track review process will be triggered;
  • allow the Legislature to do more than simply reduce, strike or accept proposals in the governor’s budget that aren’t consistent with state law;
  • permit the Legislature to add items of appropriation to the governor’s budget based on proposed legislation introduced by the governor but modified or rejected by the Legislature; and
  • require the Legislature to explain the fiscal impact of any legislative additions to the governor’s budget proposal and identify its funding.

"The Assembly has responded to the public’s demand to improve the efficiency of state government," Lifton said. "I urge the Senate and governor to pass my plan so that responsible, on-time budgets are passed every year."