In my legislative column last week, I discussed a recent public opinion poll from the Siena College Research Institute that found a majority of residents were now embarrassed to call themselves New Yorkers, largely due to a state government that has grown too big, costly, unresponsive and embroiled in far too many controversies and scandals. I also outlined my call for a “People’s Convention to Reform New York” to deliver real change to the institution of state government, including much- needed fiscal and governmental reforms to address chronic problems that have long needed fixing.
One of those problems is the issue of late state budgets and their harmful effects on taxpayers, companies and non-profits doing business with the state and how this tardiness further erodes what little trust and confidence New Yorkers have left in their government. Late budgets are symptomatic of a much larger problem affecting New York State, that being a pressing need to reform our government’s broken processes and practices to strengthen accountability and increase transparency.
BUDGET DEADLINE JUST 13 DAYS AWAY WITH LITTLE PROGRESS TO REPORT
As of this column’s writing, New York’s April 1 fiscal deadline is a mere 13 days away. This means policymakers have less than two weeks to close a projected $9.05 billion budget deficit, enact a comprehensive job creation program to grow our private sector and eliminate over $1 billion in new taxes and fees that were included in Governor Paterson’s Executive Budget. However, since no substantive public meetings between all the Legislative Leaders and the Governor have occurred, the 2010-11 State Budget has essentially been stuck in limbo and, by most accounts, is expected to be adopted after April 1. Of course, late state budgets are nothing new. From 1984 until 2004, New York’s budget was late for 20 consecutive years despite the fact that passing our state’s spending plan is widely seen as the most important duty of all 212 legislators and the governor. Could you imagine failing to do your job – for 20 consecutive years – and still being employed? Of course not!
REAL SOLUTIONS FOR AN ON-TIME, FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE BUDGET
Over two weeks ago, I announced our Assembly Minority Conference’s appointments to the Joint Budget Conference Committee, making us the first legislative conference to do so. I followed up that announcement by calling on Governor Paterson to convene an immediate public meeting of the Legislative Leaders to bring budget negotiations out from behind closed doors to ensure 100 percent transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.
As regular readers of this weekly column are aware, last year’s budget contained $8.2 billion in taxes and fees, increased government spending by an unsustainable 10 percent, and placed our state on a path to the staggering $9.05 billion budget deficit we now face. This is largely due to last year’s budget being negotiated in virtual secrecy with its details – and costs to taxpayers– only emerging mere hours before passage, with legislators not having an opportunity to read, let alone analyze, the hundreds of pages in each of the bills comprising the budget. The secretive process that designed last year’s bad budget, commonly referred to as “three-men-in-a-room,” needs to end. In 2010, I believe we should expect more from our government by way of greater transparency and openness that should be the rule, not the exception.
BETTER PROCESS, BETTER BUDGET
In order to fix this broken process, our Assembly Minority Conference has introduced three legislative initiatives (Assembly Bills A.5742, A.5743 and A.5729, respectively), among many, that are specifically geared toward reforming how our state budget is developed, decided and adopted. Our reforms include the following:
- Limit year-to-year increases in All Funds spending to no more than the rate of inflation;
- Increase the Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund;
- Provide a “Plain Language” Summary of the Budget 48 hours prior to vote;
- Prohibit consideration of non-budget bills after April 1st until the budget is adopted;
- Require two-year education funding;
- Prohibit legislative recess until adoption of a budget; and
- Require that the previous year’s budget be put in place no later than 72 hours after the start of a new fiscal year to ensure an on-time budget.
After a 20-year stretch of late state budgets, New York cannot afford a return back to the “bad old days” when the budget was routinely late and the status quo was accepted with a shrug. Our Conference’s common sense budget reforms would deliver a spending plan that is both timely and fiscally responsible. Folks, budget reform matters because a better process means a better product.
THANK YOU TO ALL WHO ATTENDED MY TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Over the past three months, I traveled to each of the five counties that comprise the 129th Assembly District – Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Ontario and Seneca – and held Town Hall Meetings for local taxpayers in Auburn, Canandaigua, Clifton Springs, Geneva, Lodi, Otisco, Preble, Moravia, Montezuma, Romulus, Seneca Falls, Spafford, and Tully. Attendance at each of these community forums was tremendous as constituents asked excellent questions about the 2010-11 State Budget and how we can reform, and transform, New York State. I want to say a very special thank you to everyone who attended our meetings and to all the host communities that were so gracious in offering venues. As we head into the spring, summer and fall, I will be available to hold more Town Hall Meetings later in the year.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter, should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.