Thursday, September 2, 2010
New Yorks Budget Mess
Well, New York finally has a budget. More or less. The New York Legislature was paralyzed for months with political infighting, name calling, missed sessions, and political sleight of hand. All of it combined kept New Yorks budget months overdue and schools and agencies sweating buckets waiting to see how bad they were going to get hit this year. To quote Governor Paterson: "Being Governor is like being in quicksand. You can move around a lot, but it just makes the problem worse." Truer words have never been spoken about New Yorks budget mess! The crap in Albany is getting deeper than ever this year, with the challenges of the state growing in tandem with a deficit that this year approached 10 billion dollars, while our Legislature was still paralyzed at the end of June. One thing is for sure, our next governor, whether it be Attorney General Andrew Coumo, (Democrat) former congressman Rick Lazio (Republican) or political upstart Carl Paladino. (Tea Party) Most people assumed that governor Paterson would be mostly paralyzed to end the budget mess that we found ourselves in. In a word- wrong! Paterson has demonstrated that in the future his successor will have formidable power to shape the state budget. Budgetary laws in New York CAN have the power to actually restrain spending by state lawmakers. But, only if the governor is able to effectively stand up to the state legislature. Until 1927, Almost all of New Yorks budget was a huge mess of joint and single appropiations bills that the state legislators came up without the governor having little if any say in the matter. Governor Alfred E. Smith, who was governor of New York for most of the 1920's saw that he was almost paralyzed to control state spending. So, he p.ut together a bi-partisan reform "coalition" that supported, and the voters of New York approved- amendments to the state constitution that created what we now know as executive budgets. In New York, as in the federal budget, the budget begins with a proposal from the executive branch. But thats where Albany and Washington also end. At the federal level, the House and the Senate committees sit down and draft all of the appropiations bills and then send them to the Congress which has NO obligation to pass any of the presidents recommendations. In New York, the complete spending plan to include all of the spending bills and the supporting statutes is then automatically sent to the state legislature. The ability of the state legislature to alter these bills is severely limited. They can add to the bill but only "provided that such additions are stated seperately and distinctly from the original items of the bill and refer each to a single object or purpose." The state governor then may use his pen and veto these additions, and if he does, it takes a two thirds majority of each house of the legislature (Assembly and the Senate) to override his veto. Legislators also have the power to strike out or reduce proposed items of the legislation. In a case such as this, the governor can really do nothing about it. Common sense should tell us that such a process would lead to reducing state spending and not increasing it. Key word: should.During this process the Legislature cannot consider passing ANY other appropiation until all of the governors bills have been acted upon. Such a process makes it even more important for New York to pass a viable spending bill in the first place. Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first state budget fount the state Legislature fighting back trying to increase it's power to modify spending bills, or to find another way around the law. The state courts in a series of precedent setting decisions have almost always sided with the governor. The most recent was in 2004 with George Pataki. Pataki won. So why do we constantly have budget deadlock? Actually, it's simple. Only the state Legislature can raise state taxes or appropriate money. But the governor has one more important weapon at his beck and call. Spending extenders. Using these extenders to keep the state running forces the legislators to vote on spending cuts they would rather not vote on or postpone. Paterson used budget extenders freely, since he was not seeking re-election, he had no worries as to whether voters or the peons in Albany disagreed with him. In mid June while we technically had no budget, two thirds of of the 2010-2011 had been enacted as part of the governors temporary spending bills! This included a 385 million dollar cut to Medicaid and other related spending from the previous year. This new budget will sock us with 1.2 billion in new fees and taxes. So much for keeping jobs in New York!! People in New York who think that the governor alone cannot introduce real change in the budget process need to keep in mind the power he has under the state budget laws. The governor also has one last item at his disposal. The last time lawmakers in New York got a pay raise was 12 years ago. That's right. As they say, change can be good! Our next chance to make real change is coming November 2nd. USE IT!