“Smoke and Mirrors” Budget Agreement Short On Specifics
A Column from Assemblyman Steve Katz (R,I-Yorktown)
March 23, 2011
While I am pleased the budget process has moved forward, and we now have agreements from three out of the 10 subcommittees, we must not lose sight of the most pressing fiscal concerns facing New Yorkers: tax and mandate relief. The first step in this equation is to ensure that this year’s final state budget does not increase state spending. I have been urging my colleagues in the Assembly to adopt legislation imposing a state spending cap to address and, hopefully, curb Albany’s addiction to runaway spending. Secondly, we must protect property taxpayers while also continuing our commitment to provide every child with a world-class education. To address this, I support a property tax cap coupled with serious mandate relief. While I have solicited mandate relief ideas from Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties and brought those ideas to the governor’s task force on Mandate Relief and Redesign, there has been no serious discussion about specific mandate reforms in Albany. While I support the task force’s initial findings, which propose generalities such as ending future unfunded mandates, we cannot fairly discuss local government aid or school funding until we have a comprehensive and agreed-upon list of specific mandate relief proposals – the two must go hand-in-hand in order to protect taxpayers. Regarding the three subcommittee agreements announced tonight, I have to ask again, Where are the specifics? While the Environment/Agriculture/Housing Subcommittee discussed itemized funding restorations, including many programs I fought to restore, such as Future Farmers of America and other Cornell Agriculture Programs, the Mental Hygiene Subcommittee did not specify which mental health facilities will be closed, merged or restructured. As the Ranking Minority Member of the Assembly Mental Health Committee, I have been meeting with countless groups, organizations, schools and individuals who rely on these services in order to discuss their specific funding appropriations; but, again, we have heard no specifics. As an Albany newcomer, I have to ask if the budget process is really about making the best use of each and every taxpayer dollar to restore our fiscal solvency, prevent our children’s and grandchildren’s futures from being mortgaged with debt, or creating long-term and sustainable economic prosperity – or is it all smoke and mirrors, a mirage meant to give lawmakers the opportunity to pat themselves on the back? As a small-business owner, I know that this process is bad accounting and impractical in terms of delivering for the people who put us here to represent them.