Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
State lawmakers were headed for an on time state budget for the second year in a row that keeps spending relatively flat. They hoped to wrap up voting by late Friday afternoon. As Karen DeWitt reports, the lack of the usual dramatics surrounding the budget this time is due to preparations that began over a year ago.
State legislators and Governor Cuomo have been touting the on time budget for the second year in a row that also, for the second time, reigns in spending.
Cuomo admits that most people would view that as lawmakers simply doing their job. But he says in a state that has almost never met the budget deadline for over two decades, it’s a “big deal”.
“For many years it wasn’t done on time,” said Cuomo, who says it became a “metaphor” for the dysfunction in Albany.
The budget is winning praise from government reform groups as well. The watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission says the spending plan contains far fewer gimmicks and one shot revenue raisers than in the past.
The Commission’s Betsy Lynam also credits Governor Cuomo with changing the terms of the debate and ending some of the budget games that had become an Albany tradition. She says the 4% increases in school aid and health care funding this year were tied to indexes based on events in the real world. The school funding increase was based on the personal income growth, and the health funding was tied to the medical component of the consumer price index.
“The conversation really has shifted,” said Lynam. “It’s not about an endless request or the sky’s the limit on school aid.”
Lynam says the budget also came together more easily this year because of actions that began over a year ago, when Cuomo and lawmakers closed a $10 billion dollar projected deficit and set parameters for spending for a two year period.
Last December, when the stagnating economy led to a widening new budget gap, Cuomo, after saying for months he was against raising any new taxes, agreed to extend an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers, closing almost half of the new deficit.
Then, in mid March, during an all night session, the governor and legislature agreed on the most controversial part of Cuomo’s budget, pension changes that will result in future employees contributing more for their retirement. The governor, at the time defended the hasty passage, saying without a decisive vote at that moment, the debate would never have ended.
“The trick is at one point to stop the dialogue and force action ,” Cuomo said at the time. “Up or down.”
In the over night session legislators also approved new redistricting lines designed by the majority parties in each house. Cuomo, after threatening to veto the lines, ultimately accepted the new lines largely intact, in exchange for a constitutional amendment to reform them in the future. Although redistricting does not directly affect the budget, it was important personally to lawmakers, most of whom are seeking re election in November. The deal fostered good will between the governor and the legislature, which has lasted through the final budget talks.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos spoke as the final agreements were reached.
“Just as years of late budgets symbolized Albany’s dysfunction, on time budgets show that state government is working again,” said Skelos.
The all night session in mid March was widely condemned by newspaper editorials from around the state as a reversion to backroom politics. Legislators may be hoping that a budget approved during regular business hours will help erase the stigma.