EDITORIAL: Albany lawmakers need to focus on the budget

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With the governor's office twisting in chaos over a domestic violence scandal, you could say things are far from business-as-usual in Albany. But that may be good.

In the past, business-as-usual has brought New York dysfunction, high taxes and government spending sprees. This time last year, the economic fallout from banking failures was perfectly plain to read in foreclosure and jobless numbers. Yet how did state government react? It raised spending by nearly 9 percent, including $7 billion in new taxes and fees, only to return midyear to make painful cuts.

Lawmakers can't do that again. Nor can they use Gov. David A. Paterson's drama to excuse their own inaction. The real job now is to deliver an honest state budget by March 31 - one that realistically reduces spending. Insiders already knew as the ink was drying on last year's budget that it was unbalanced. In this election year, the temptation will be even greater to paper over deficits.

Budget progress depends on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn). Fortunately, both houses show signs of moving forward, concurring on a revenue forecast on Monday. They should also turn to their budget professionals for inventive options. Times like these may leave room for bold ideas, such as Sen. Liz Krueger's (D-Manhattan) reform package suggesting a two-year budget cycle.

The chaos in Albany is disheartening. But lawmakers can't let themselves be distracted from the main event. hN

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