For 20 years, the New York state budget has been in arrears — well past the April 1 deadline, sometimes well into the summer or fall. This streak was broken in 2011. Back then, lawmakers in Albany reassured New Yorkers that the days of three men speaking in a room — Albany — were for a secret process in which budgets and laws are negotiated between the governor and Senate leaders and assembly behind closed doors — were past.
But none of these bad practices have really changed. And aside from some of the gender differences, this year’s budget negotiations were the 2022 version of the very three-men-in-a-room process all mocked.
Don’t worry, Governor Kathy Hochul assures us. “It’s a normal budget process.”
Maybe that’s the problem: Normal or not, it stinks – in at least three different ways.
The first stench: The Budget is a week late. It wasn’t long before lawmakers switched their talk of the budget from “on time” to “on time.” According to Senator Liz Krueger, chair of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee, a late budget “would not have any impact on [peoples’] Lives or Their Budgets,” later acknowledging that the legislature is not “perfect.”
Fine. It’s likely that most New Yorkers didn’t even realize the budget was late. But that’s a slippery slope. And for those of us who remember those years of late budgets and the fiscal woes they caused for Albany and local governments across the state. . . we never want to go there again.
There is a practical deadline for passing the budget of April 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year. Budget preparation and implementation is arguably the most important aspect of the Legislature’s work, so New Yorkers should resist the urge to passively accept a “timely” budget as being on time. A day, a week, or a month late is still too late.
What makes the budget late? That’s the second stench: non-budget items constantly clog the work.
By all accounts, the budget process went smoothly until the governor and legislature passed large, complicated, non-budget issues in the budget negotiations. In the Albany language, this is called a “Big Ugly” or an invoice that contains many different items. In this year’s Budget Big Ugly: Changes to the state’s much-discussed criminal justice reforms, an alleged redux of the state’s maligned public ethics laws, a Post-authorization of to-go drinks for restaurants and a variety of other non-budget items.
It is the disagreements and negotiations on these policy issues that seem to have caused the delay, making it hard to believe Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s claim last month that his conference did not want any politics in the budget at which it “it’s all about public finances”.
The delay caused by negotiating non-budget policy issues leads directly to the third and worst stench: Late budgets create urgency that serves secrecy.
Under the guise of the self-inflicted late budget, almost every budget proposal this year is expected to be passed with a “message of necessity”. That’s the oft-used, little-understood technique that short-circuits the debate over this year’s $220 billion spending plan.
The state constitution states that lawmakers should wait at least three days after introducing a bill before passing it. However, this requirement is waived if the governor issues a notice of necessity. Originally intended for emergencies, it has evolved into a convenient way to hand over bills before lawmakers — let alone taxpayers — have a chance to scrutinize them.
But the budget is already late. There is nothing stopping lawmakers from aging the bills, giving lawmakers and taxpayers alike the opportunity to scrutinize and weigh them. That is, of course, unless lawmakers are trying to hide something.
So, Governor Hochul and lawmakers, we beg of you: Please work harder to make things a little less “normal” — and with a lot less stink.
Tim Hoefer is President and CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/08/albany-returns-to-the-bad-old-stinky-ways-of-passing-a-budget/ Albany is going back to the bad, old, smelly ways of saying goodbye to a household