2010-2011 State Budget: Nearly Complete But Still Lacks Necessary Cuts; Majority Will Likely Increase Burden On New York Taxpayers

A Legislative Column from Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia)

The 2010-2011 State Budget is now more than 80 days late and yet only about 75% of it is finished, leaving $5.5 billion of the original $9.2 billion deficit left to be addressed. With education funding comprising most of what is left in the budget, the question now is where will these needed cuts come from? Given the fact that making education cuts is the political third rail for the legislative majorities, will they resort to more taxes? Or worse, will they decide to increase state borrowing? New York taxpayers cannot afford either of these options; but given the total lack of transparency during the budget’s piecemeal process, it’s likely that they will plan to do one or the other, if not both.

While some of the $9.2 billion budget deficit was closed by consolidating multiple state programs, much of the deficit has used ‘savings’ plans rather than real cuts. Two weeks ago, health care spending was decreased by $775 million; however, only about $385 million of that came through real cuts, leaving the remaining amount to come from unspecified savings measures.

Several other reductions or ‘savings’ in the budget have gone after revenue generating areas. This included allowing the job-creating Empire Zone program to sunset. Although in need of reform, Empire Zones provided nearly $650 million in tax credits to businesses that created and maintained jobs. Its successor, the Excelsior Plan, will only provide $250 million, reallocating the other $400 million to cover the budget deficit. Instead of investing in the state’s economy, which in turn would help boost long-term revenues, the state is raiding some of the only job-creating programs we have, while replacing them with programs that will only cater to special interests.

In addition to economic development, the agricultural segment of the economy has been heavily impacted as well. The Cornell Geneva Experiment for State Seed Inspection, Cornell Integrated Pest Management, Farm Family Assistance, and New York Farm Viability Institute has each seen their funding significantly scaled back. Agriculture is the backbone of Upstate New York’s economy, by increasing the already heavy cost burden, not only will this struggling cornerstone industry continue to decline, but so too will the small businesses that rely on them.

The majorities in the Assembly and Senate appear unconcerned as the governor’s budget deadline of June 28 approaches. My colleagues and I in the Minority Conference have repeatedly offered specific proposals that will properly cut wasteful government spending, put an end to state borrowing, and reform the budget process to make it more transparent and, therefore, accountable to state taxpayers by:

Eliminating Member Item Grants$250,000,000
Streamlining State Agencies with similar/overlapping functions$960,000,000
Eliminating funding for state government to buy private land$60,000,000
Eliminating funding for Personal Care Level 2 (i.e. maid service)$8,000,000
Eliminating translation services for Medicaid Recipients $10,720,000
Eliminating new non-emergency vehicle purchases/leases for one year $14,000,000
Eliminating Medicaid program offerings to align with national average$600,000,000
Increasing Medicaid fraud recovery measures$2.2 to $4 billion
A Total Savings of $4,102,700,000 to $5,902,700,000 per year

Sadly, the New York City-based ‘three men in a room’ have ignored these suggestions, allowing the 2010-2011 State Budget to be added to the growing list of fiscally mismanaged budgets.

New York deserves better than the Albany dysfunction that leaves taxpayers with an overpriced bill because the legislative majorities refuse to do the right thing, make state government live within its means, or JUST GET THE JOB DONE! Had this budget been completed by the April 1 deadline, in an open and transparent way, the $9.2 billion deficit could have been properly addressed. I have voted against these budget bills and will continue to do so until real cuts are made and the state’s budget is balanced without increasing the burden on taxpayers.