Completion of a state budget rarely is cause for celebration.
It’s more akin to getting word from the doctor that what’s been ailing you isn’t going to kill you. There’s some relief in hearing the news, but the pain and agita are still there. Unfortunately, that’s the case this year, again.
Whatever the resolution of negotiations, which for much of the past three days were at the any-minute-now-but-don’t-hold-your-breath stage, the process stinks. It might be shorter now than in the really dysfunctional days when talks stretched weeks past the March 31 deadline, but when progress can be held up in part by an outrageous demand from Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder that yeshivas be exempted from state curriculum standards, the process still stinks.
A deal on what’s likely to be a $170 billion spending plan that affects every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives is being made behind closed doors by four men — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein. A single legislator such as Felder, who gives Republicans control of the Senate, can help derail talks while more than 200 other lawmakers twiddle their thumbs. The public receives only conflicting accounts about what’s on and off the table. There are no public hearings, no public debate.
When the leaders finally agree on a budget, a mad rush typically ensues. Bills are quickly printed, Cuomo waives the time required to read them, and lawmakers approve a budget they haven’t read, never mind analyzed, all to make the statutory end-of-month deadline — and, this year, the earlier get-home-for-the-holidays deadline.
Compounding that is horse-trading on vital policy matters — ranging from sexual harassment to gun control to criminal justice reforms — that results in some getting stuffed into the budget and others getting blocked, again without the public debate these issues warrant. And still no discussion on whether big annual increases in school aid can be sustained in the future.
This is no way to run a state government.
Year after year, Albany has shown itself incapable of responding well to a deadline. At these times, it would be best to punt negotiations another week or two, allow more thought and input and light, and remove some of the stench from this unsavory process.
In other words, do it right. — The editorial board