Economy , Newsline

New York State Budget Delayed, No Surprise There

Posted on Monday, April 8, 2024
by Outside Contributor
Close up shot of wavy New York state flag

By – Matt Meduri

It’s become an unfortunate aspect of New York government to which we’ve all had to grow accustomed, most of us begrudgingly so. Late budgets have been the norm in New York since the 1980s, with the longest lapse in timeliness in 2004, when the budget was 133 days late. 1997 and 1999 also saw the April deadline turn into August breakthroughs.

The problem with New York is that the state creates budgets differently than all other states. The normal way is for the legislature to craft a plan for the next fiscal year, devoid of policy, and present it to the governor, where he or she can recommend changes. The process differs slightly between states, wherein the governor has varied amounts of power in the form of disagreement, while the legislatures have subjective levels of their own control.

But in New York, the land of red tape galore, we, of course, do things differently – backwards, actually.

The Governor actually creates an executive budget and presents it to the legislature for deliberation. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the budget just included fiscal measures. The problem with New York is that we weave policy in with budget, even on matters that don’t require spending any money at all. The Governor gets to propose spending increases, cuts, and other allocations, while also proposing legislation that should almost always be presented on its own merits.

Governor Hochul’s (D) budget this year is the largest in the state’s history – a whopping $233 billion – the largest in the country behind California. This year’s budget includes $129 billion in state funds – tax revenue – $85 billion in federal funds – usually for large infrastructure projects or health insurance for low-income residents, to name a couple examples – plus another $19 billion in mixed state and federal funds.

Once the Governor proposes the executive budget, the process is kicked to the Assembly and Senate, where they basically try to wield as much control as possible, even though the process is incredibly stacked to give the Governor the upper hand. Each chamber then presents their one-house budgets, which are essentially their own proposals of where funds should go and how policy should be resolved, usually to the tune of their own districts – rightfully so.

The delays then come in the form of intense negotiations that can last days, weeks, or even months as both chambers and the Governor try to capture wins for their districts.

Again, this wouldn’t be as monumentally complicated or time-consuming if the budget was concerned with finances. That alone can be a nightmare to deliberate, but at least it would just be one aspect of governance to debate.

The policy aspect of bills is what constitutes all the fighting and delays. Nickel and diming for opioid treatment centers or environmental concerns of certain districts is what we expect of our legislators, but hanging up the whole process on policy makes it difficult for the legislators to do their jobs. All the while, the Governor has the upper hand pretty much through the entire process.

Once the chambers submit their budgets, the Governor can line-item veto any provision she wants. The line-item veto isn’t the problem here. To reiterate, it’s the line-item vetoing of provisions in the budget that should not be remotely close to the budget.

Governor Cuomo (D), to his credit, presided over mostly-on-time budgets, but Albany began hitting budgets snags again in 2017 due to the “Raise the Age” controversy. The “Raise the Age” law raised the age of criminal responsibility to eighteen years of age. New York was one of the last states to automatically prosecute sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as adults. The argument in the law was that it robbed young people the opportunity for rehabilitation and spared them of a criminal justice system that might have led to recidivism and possibly institutionalization.

A valiant effort and a noble cause, except many point the “Raise the Age” law as one of the reason’s New York is currently so crime-ridden. The massive crime waves plaguing New York City have seen youthful offenders commit serious crimes, but the RTA policy not only treats them with kid gloves, but also removes the discretion of prosecutors and judges to determine community safety in retaining an offender, and also prevents courts from using information of prior arrests in determining the outcome of a new arrest.

Only adding insult to injury was that prior to the RTA’s enactment, there was a system in determining how youths could be charged and there were provisions for more serious crimes.

This whole disastrous policy came in the form of the 2018 fiscal year budget.

In 2019, the horrendously awful bail reform laws came in the form of a state budget.

Last year, Governor Hochul attempted to appease moderates and conservatives by lobbying for changes to bail reform, notably by attempting to reinstate judicial discretion that allows judges to gauge community safety in retaining defendants.

The budget was not passed until early-to-mid May, about six weeks late because of the hangups.

We’re not sure just how serious Hochul was about attempting to govern as a moderate and make common sense changes to a nonsense set of laws, but if we’re giving her the benefit of the doubt that she was being genuine, we’re not surprised it didn’t pan out. We didn’t forget that around Christmas 2022, the legislature proposed raises that made them the most well-compensated state legislature in the entire country.

Hochul signed the bill and asked for nothing in return. Fast forward a few months and we’re supposed to act surprised the legislature doesn’t want to meet her halfway on certain proposals?

It’s hard to believe the progressive faction of the Democratic Party would have given her any ground on that, but for all the upper hand Hochul has in the budget process as Governor, she loses because she can’t control her legislature. You’d figure that arguably the most powerful Governor in the country regarding budget-crafting would try to use that position to her benefit. Despite all of Cuomo’s faults, he at least understood how to throw elbows and get what he wanted. Maybe it’s just a downstate New York thing, but we could sure use that type of governance right now.

The final massive problem that gives us virtually no faith in the budget-making process is that all of the policies are presented in one giant omnibus package, much like the ones that constitute most of Washington’s dysfunction. A legislator can agree with a quarter of the entire plan and disagree with the other 75%, but if that 25% is valuable to him or her, they might have to bite the bullet and approve the budget anyway.

This was the excuse of then-Assemblyman now-Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) at a press conference a couple weeks ago when The Messenger quizzed him on his support for the bail reform laws. He stated that he wanted environmental policies and educational funding, so he approved the budget anyway, enacting bail reform.

Englebright wasn’t the lynchpin vote on the matter, and we certainly can’t fault him for New York’s abysmal budget-making process, but it does show how lawmakers can hide behind an omnibus package and not take any realistic hits for voting for stupid legislation. If Englebright wanted to absolve himself of that rational fury, he could have just voted against the budget, let the progressive wing carry it home, get what he wanted anyway, while also being able to say he voted against bail reform.

The other obvious problem with omnibus budgets is that they can lead to pork barrelling and sneakily-passed legislation. These massive budgets and seemingly-endless fighting don’t exactly give us faith that these laws are read with the intent with which they should be.

Here’s how we would fix the process:

For one, separate policy and budget.

For another, prioritize line-item spending and individualized policy.

Finally, elect Republicans to the State Senate and allow them to retake control of the chamber.

It’s clear that a Democratic trifecta in Albany is not working. The state has gotten less affordable, more dysfunctional, and much less safe. At least when there was divided control in Albany, there was more reason for compromise and meeting in the middle. Now, we have a rabid progressive wing that hijacks the way the state is run, and they don’t take Hochul seriously enough to come to the table.

We’re not surprised the budget is delayed again. Cue the mudslinging from both sides about how neither party wants the state employees to get their paychecks because they want to hold the line on key legislation. We’ve heard this one before; we’re not buying it.

We’ll certainly not be surprised any time soon as long as New York insists on remaining the most backwards and dysfunctional state in terms of creating budgets.

Matt Meduri is the Editor-in-Chief of The Messenger Papers, an official newspaper of Suffolk County that serves the townships of Smithtown, Brookhaven, and Islip. This editorial ran in the April 4 edition.

Reprinted with Permission from Messenger Papers – By Matt Meduri

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AMAC or AMAC Action.

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Theresa Coughlin
Theresa Coughlin
1 month ago

I live in NY. The changes that need to be to the budget process will NEVER happen because progressives like the power that comes with the way things are too much. As for Hochul’s claims that she will govern as a moderate: It’s a scam she and other democrats like to pull on the voters in an attempt to get elected.

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