“Business As Usual” Reigns At The State Capitol And Taxpayers Will Be Stuck With The Tab
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
June 18, 2010
Readers have likely heard the old expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Nowhere is that sentiment more apparent, and appropriate, than at our state capitol, as the Assembly and Senate head toward the scheduled conclusion of the 2010 legislative session. As usual, there is a mad dash to finish, where bill after bill is passed in a flurry of legislative activity. Don’t be fooled: this is just Albany trying to make up for entire wasted weeks where little of substance was accomplished. This year, the end-of-session sprint included a last-minute effort to finally enact the 2010-11 State Budget, which, as of this column’s writing, is a staggering 79 days past due. The budget was originally supposed to be in place back on April 1, which is New York’s fiscal deadline. But Albany’s “business as usual” approach to doing the people’s business and actually meeting deadlines doesn’t exactly mix. That is why much of this week saw more lip service to getting a spending plan done than substantive progress. ECENT PUBLIC LEGISLATIVE LEADERS’ MEETING WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT On Wednesday, when the budget was 77 days overdue, Governor Paterson convened our fifth public Legislative Leaders’ meeting since the budget deadline was missed. As readers are well aware, I have continually called for public Leaders’ meetings stretching all the way back to July 2009. I wanted these meetings so we head off the disastrous repercussions of last year’s bad budget and its $8.5 billion in job-killing taxes and fees, along with an unsustainable – and unwise – 10 percent hike in government spending. However, my push was for productive Leaders’ meetings, where things of actual substance could be accomplished. Unfortunately, our meeting on Wednesday seemed like more of a photo op than a serious-minded attempt to break the late budget stalemate. The Governor apparently called our meeting to grab headlines by pronouncing a “deadline” of June 28 for the Majorities to get the 2010-11 State Budget done. This ultimatum might have carried more weight 11 weeks ago, when the budget was actually due. Why the Governor chose to issue this meaningless deadline 77 days after the budget was already supposed to be in place is truly a mystery. The Governor’s deadline might have made a difference if it had been issued back in March. On June 16? Not so much. I have led the fight and continually spoken out for getting a fiscally responsible and financially sound State Budget in place as quickly as possible. As you have read in this column, week after week I urged the Governor to bring the Majorities to the table, follow the law, and convene Joint Conference Committees to ensure budget negotiations were 100 percent open and transparent. Incredibly, the Joint Conference Committee has not met since the budget was due. As a result, there has been more secrecy than usual surrounding the 2010-11 State Budget. BUY NOW, PAY LATER? During our Leaders’ meeting, the Governor also confirmed that he had not reached an agreement with the Senate and Assembly Majorities regarding a revenue plan that must accompany the budget. The absence of such a plan means government is essentially deciding what to buy before figuring out how it can pay. Does that sound like a fiscally responsible idea? Of course not. It is this sort of financially irresponsible approach to spending the taxpayers’ money that caused New York’s $9.2 billion budget deficit. The good news right now is that it does appear that a budget will finally pass – 79 days late – by the time you read this column. The past 79 days with no state spending plan has negatively impacted construction contractors and their workers, non-profit organizations, local school districts, not to mention taxpayers who have been forced to wait 79 days for the Majorities to do their jobs and pass a spending plan. MUCH UNFINISHED BUSINESS ON ALBANY’S TO-DO LIST Monday, June 21, is the last official scheduled day of the 2010 Legislative Session. Had the state’s fiscal crisis been addressed long before now, other significant priorities would not be left to linger on the back burner. Instead of routinely going into session at 2 p.m., the Majorities should have started session earlier so we could get the spending plan enacted and then move forward with the people’s business. There is much remaining on Albany’s “To-Do” list that still needs to get done. These issues include enactment of a property tax cap and state spending cap; renewal of the Power for Jobs Program; implementation of a real statewide economic development plan to create an economic climate that grows the private sector; reforming and consolidating State Agencies and providing unfunded mandate relief for local governments and taxpayers. The to-do list goes on for a country mile. As the remaining hours in the 2010 session continue to wind down, I will keep pushing for action on these agenda items. If, as expected, the State Budget finally gets enacted by the time this column goes to print, I will include specific details on the contents of the spending plan for readers in next week’s column. 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. 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