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Deadline is gone, but get NY State budget right in Albany

Exterior view of the New York state Capitol

Exterior view of the New York state Capitol as legislative leaders work on the state budget in Albany on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Credit: AP

There probably was no chance the budget process in Albany would go smoothly this year. The karma was that bad.

And now the deadline for an on-time $152 billion state budget for 2017-18 has been busted for the first time in seven years. But some things never went away: lawmakers giving conflicting accounts of behind-closed-doors negotiations, no one certain about how the issues are connected, legislators ultimately voting on measures — albeit temporary ones so far — that they have not had time to read.

The process is deplorable.

Culprits, we’ve got a few: Albany’s normal dysfunction is a potent derailment threat all by itself. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s national ambitions mean he must deliver the goods to impress progressive Democrats. A legislature still smarting from, and blaming Cuomo for, the pay raise it never got is spoiling for a fight and in a nasty mood. Uncertainty about what President Donald Trump’s federal budget will mean for New York has led to arguments about how to prepare for cuts. Poisonous vapors from Washington have hardened positions across the spectrum.

Solutions, we’ve got one: Pass a budget, a reasonable one with policies that have broad if not universal support and some Trump precautions, like the contingencies for possible Medicaid cuts in the extender bills considered Monday which mostly maintain current spending for two months to ensure that the state continues to function.

And pass it this week. We prefer a budget done right to one done on time, and don’t mind a little lateness. But the legislature wants to leave for Easter break on Thursday and doesn’t return until April 24. That’s a problem for school districts, in particular. Their budgets are due then, and they need to know what state aid they’re getting.

Only a few truly contentious issues remain. Raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Teens accused of nonviolent crimes belong in youth court; those charged with violent crimes do not, especially for ones committed with a deadly weapon.

A version of Cuomo’s proposal for free public college tuition should be approved, but not his idea to help fund it with a 10 percent assessment of those colleges’ foundations. The foundations are private; most donations to them are directed to specific purposes like funding buildings or recruiting professors, and taking from them is just a shell game.

And provide no new 421a tax credit for developers who build affordable housing. In the past, developers got too many breaks and built too few units.

The extender did include $2.5 billion for clean-water infrastructure, a terrific move, and designated at least $75 million for septic replacements, about $60 million likely bound for Long Island. That will fix some 6,000 Suffolk County homes in high-priority areas, a nice total, but far short of the 360,000 homes not on sewers. If the intention was to avoid voting on a bill to let Suffolk residents decide via referendum whether to institute a water fee to pay for the county’s septic program, it didn’t work. Suffolk needs recurring revenue to fight its nitrogen battle, and lawmakers must give the county the opportunity to get it.

The clock is ticking, but there’s time to get it right.

— The editorial board


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