Spending Cuts A Step In Right Direction, But Pork Should Not Be Included In Final Budget

A Column from Assemblyman Steve Katz (R,I-Yorktown)
March 29, 2011
Pictured above, from right to left, Assemblyman Katz (far right) speaks with Charles Melchner (from Mahopac Marina) and Ginny DiForio (from Surfside 3 on the Hudson) today in the Legislative Office Building “Well” regarding the restoration of funding for maritime patrols in the budget agreement, as well as other initiatives to reduce red tape and the tax burden on local businesses throughout the Mid-Hudson Region. Assemblyman Katz worked with local law enforcement, boating groups and constituents to help bring attention to the impact the proposed maritime patrol cuts would have on the safety of local communities and the assemblyman is continuing to work with local businesses and chambers of commerce find ways to help “get Albany out of the way of job creation.”
Although rank-and-file legislators have not seen the final budget agreement details, the broad strokes of the agreement take our state in the right direction, beginning to highlight the dire straits our state is in. For the first time in ages, the state budget will reduce spending as well as be passed on time as per the law – and I must applaud the governor for his initiative and leadership in seeing his budget proposal adopted on time.

While I respect the governor’s initial action on this year’s budget, I have to question the lack of specifics in the recently announced budget agreement. As an Albany newcomer, I find it discouraging to be asked to prepare ourselves for a vote this week without access to the specific proposals and line-item agreements.

I am pleased that the agreement contains caps on school and Medicaid spending, as well as restores funding for 4201 schools for Blind and Deaf education programs – though I am not one for spending, these schools truly benefit many deserving New Yorkers. Additionally, restoring funding for maritime patrol will help ensure our local lakes and waterways remain safe as we anticipate the coming days of summer.

But I believe we can, and need to, go further. The budget neglects to deliver any property tax relief or substantial relief for employers – we must make creating jobs a top priority in Albany. We also are missing an opportunity to enact meaningful pension reforms that could have saved the state millions of dollars and been a step toward reducing the tax burden. I am also very disappointed that the agreement removes the cap on “pain and suffering” lawsuits for hospitals. As we are trying to save every taxpayer-funded penny, it seems ridiculous to me to remove this cap, essentially raising Medicaid costs for New York State taxpayers by an estimated $100 million or more.

Finally, I am outraged that the budget agreement appears to include another $100 million for pork barrel spending. Every taxpaying New Yorker should be appalled that the governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, behind closed doors and over the weekend, resorted to Albany’s broken status quo of “three men in a room” to include personal pork – especially given the fiscal climate and the fact that this budget asks every constituency to make concessions and accept cuts this year.

While we await the bill text so we can review each specific proposal, my first impression of this budget agreement is a mixed bag. There are certainly many positives in this agreement, but I believe we should not include pork barrel spending.

As I continue to gather information and weigh this all-important decision, I will be thinking of what is in the best interest of the residents of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties – and I want to hear from you. Please email me at katzs@assembly.state.ny.us or share your thoughts with me on Facebook so that I can ensure your voice is represented as we continue working toward an on-time and fiscally-responsible budget.