View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers
For 20 years - straight - the New York State budget was late. Until two years ago, the date the budget should have been authorized by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the Governor was appropriately designated April Fool's Day.
Happiness reigned supreme, however, when, in 2005 and 2006, it passed on time! Then-Governor Pataki was beside himself with glee and even the legislators couldn't believe it. Frowns turned to smiles and it seemed the lawmakers could have taken a day off (another one?) because of the special occasion.
Now, as that trepidacious day approaches this year, the big mucky-mucks in state government - Governor Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno - are still talking and, sources say, have reached a "tentative" agreement on some key, huge, points, including property tax relief, school aid and health care - the most important three issues ever.
Now, some of the minor items still have to be assuaged, however. Remember, in order for the budget to be passed, it has to be approved by the Senate and Assembly and then has to be signed by Spitzer. At this point, it seems that it's more a matter of timing. Silver said this week that a joint legislative conference is already under way.
If they don't come up with the budget on time, the fear is that things that have made life easier for those who need it the most, will not come to pass, merely because there is not enough money to afford them.
For instance, how about non-profit agencies that depend on grants and loans from state-run agencies so they can exist? Sure, there are a few foundations that contribute to these small senior or youth centers and others, but, for the most part, they get their funding from the state.
What about the state workers? Those who labor up there in Albany don't get their paychecks from thin air. The money has to be authorized by the Assembly members and Senators and signed by Spitzer, which they and he can't do without agreeing on a budget.
Right now, Spitzer has proposed a budget of $120.6 billion. The Assembly said they want a budget of $121.2 billion, and the Senators say they want to add another billion or so onto the Assembly's proposals. The tentative, unsigned deal totals close to $122 billion, which is up more than 10 percent from last year.
I remember a time when the budget took months - literally months - to pass. Non-profit agencies were working on borrowed money throughout the state system, with some closing their doors all together and those "at risk" kids who were attending after-school programs were relegated to after-school street corners.
Senior citizens who needed to cohabit with others so they could have something to look forward to on a daily basis, instead dwelt on their own loneliness without a friend or, in some cases, a good meal that otherwise would have come to them by the graces of Meals on Wheels, another non-profit agency funded in part by the government.
There are two days left to come to an agreement on the budget and for it to be signed.
If I were a betting man, I'd say they're not going to make it. Either way, it's coming right down to the wire.
Don't hold your breath.