The April 1 deadline has come and gone without the passage of the Empire State’s fiscal roadmap for 2008-09. Most lawmakers spent a frustrating week in Albany working through the night in an effort to build a consensus and negotiate agreements that will allow us to accomplish the people’s work.
No one will argue that this year was not extraordinary, with a spectacular conclusion to the Spitzer administration and the ongoing transition to Governor David Paterson. Despite the shake-up in the Executive office, there seems to be a ‘business as usual’ mentality at the state Capitol. The status quo has advanced yet another budget that spends too much, taxes too much and offers little in the way of reform.
The people of upstate New York cannot afford to pay more in taxes and fees; yet, under this budget, that is exactly what they will do. It is hard to calculate just how much this budget will cost us because it is being debated and voted on in a piecemeal fashion. In the race to save face, legislative leaders are forfeiting transparency and accountability in the budget process.
Simple steps can be taken to improve the process. We must require that the previous year’s budget be temporarily adopted no later than 72 hours after the start of a new fiscal year to ensure an "on-time budget". This would buy more time, allowing the state to continue operating, but there wouldn’t be a rush to get it done that would sacrifice openness.
In addition, we should prohibit consideration of non-budget bills after April 1 until the budget is adopted, prohibit legislative recess until adoption and ensure that a plain language summary of the budget is provided 48 hours prior to a vote. Again, these measures will keep the focus on the budget, force the process to be more open, give all legislators an equal say and allow a better budget to be passed.
Let’s also not forget that our state debt, which currently costs each New Yorker about $2,797 a year, is the second highest per capita in the nation. This burden is funded by backdoor borrowing, and then passed on to the taxpayers, who will have to pay for it at some point in the future. We need to get serious about debt reform and ban borrowing without voter approval while requiring that 10 percent of any budget surplus be used to decrease the state debt and revise the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which issues debt.
Passing these budget reforms is easier said than done. However, I will not give up on making the process more transparent and accountable to the people of this great state. It is too late for this year’s budget, which, hopefully, will be finalized in the coming hours, but we must make a concerted effort to improve the process for the years to come.
One of the keys to a more open and transparent budget process is having constituents contact my district office to voice their concerns, opinions and thoughts. I can be reached at (315) 781-2030 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.