Finally, A Legislative Leaders’ Meeting On The Late State Budget
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
May 21, 2010
Week after week, month after month, I have repeatedly called on Governor Paterson to convene public Leaders’ meetings to tackle New York’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit and break the deadlock on the 2010-11 State Budget, which is now 51 days past due with still no end in sight. I issued press releases, sent letters and wrote weekly columns, all urging the Governor to use the power of his bully pulpit to call such a public meeting. In fact, I began this push for public meetings not in 2010, but in July of 2009, because I wanted the Governor, myself and the other Leaders to get a head start on solving the state’s budget crisis that has since ballooned into a $9.05 billion shortfall. I believe if we had held these meetings last summer, then New York’s finances would probably not be in such dire shape. FINALLY, A LEADERS’ MEETING – BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Despite the delay, I was glad the Governor finally heeded my call and convened a public meeting of the Legislative Leaders this past Tuesday. The stated purpose of our meeting was to achieve progress on the stalled budget negotiations that have allowed New York to drift without a spending plan for over seven weeks since our state’s April 1 fiscal deadline was missed. This year marked the 25th time since 1985 that the State Budget has been late, which is one of the worst track records in the nation. In reporting on the Governor calling the public Leaders’ meeting, even the Capitol media referred to it as a “rare” event. “GOVERNOR… THIS PROCESS HAS BEEN A DISASTER” As is customary, the Governor began our meeting by presenting his overview of where the process stood and indicating what he had done to try to move negotiations forward. In turn, my fellow Leaders – Senate Majority Conference Leader John Sampson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Minority Conference Leader Dean Skelos – offered their perspectives. My words to the Governor and fellow colleagues were candid and meant to convey the feelings of New Yorkers fed-up and frustrated by a broken state government incapable of performing the most basic of tasks, like passing an on-time, fiscally responsible budget. In speaking of the budget process that clearly has not worked, I said the following: “The process has been a disaster. Our Conference has continually called for public Leaders’ meetings to be held by the Governor, they have not happened.” “We have called for Joint Conference Committees, they have not happened. We have had no public discussions in a bi-partisan or even partisan way, publicly, on all the different aspects that we are dealing with in this budget.” My point was to show the extent to which, just like last year, the budget process had again broken down and nothing of substance was accomplished. I also said it was time for the Majorities to stop sending out press releases and making speeches about the late State Budget, and actually do something to get a spending plan done. New Yorkers have heard enough talk and posturing from the same politicians in Albany who caused this mess. I then outlined several items that should be part of our action plan going forward, including the following: COLLECT THE TAXES ON CIGARETTES & GASOLINE SOLD ON NATIVE AMERICAN LANDS TO NON-NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS I urged the Governor and my fellow Leaders to join me in making the collection of $600 million in taxes on cigarettes and gasoline sold on Native American lands to non-Native American Indians a priority. With a $9.05 billion budget shortfall, it makes no sense for the state to allow these taxes to continue going uncollected. Instead of beginning with cutting jobs, raising taxes or taking on another dime in debt, New York should enforce the law and collect the taxes. FOLLOW THE LAW AND HOLD CONFERENCE COMMITTEES In the absence of a spending plan, the “Budget Reform Act of 2007” specifically requires the Majorities in both houses to convene Conference Committees and release timetables for getting a budget done. So far, there has only been one meeting of the General Joint Conference Committee and nothing of consequence was accomplished. Since that meeting, the Majorities in the Senate and Assembly have continually been in violation of the law by refusing to convene Conference Committees or release timetables for when, or how, the late State Budget will be resolved. I called on them to start following the law and hold Conference Committees. CLOSE THE DEFICIT BY CUTTING SPENDING – NOT THROUGH MORE BORROWING OR NEW TAXES Our Assembly Minority Conference prides itself on being the Conference of fiscal responsibility – this is why I told the Governor and other Leaders that, under no circumstances, would we support billions in new borrowing that the Assembly Majority called for, nor would we vote for the over $1 billion in new taxes included in the Governor’s budget. I said those proposals were short-term fixes that would only deepen and prolong New York’s fiscal problems. Cutting spending to reduce the size and cost of state government is the solution. While it took months for this gathering finally to happen, I believe that regular Leaders’ meetings with action plans and follow-through could help get the budget done. Our next public meeting is this coming Tuesday, May 25. I will continue pressing for each of the agenda items outlined above and report back on my progress. 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 email@example.com. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.