WXXI Local Stories
Wed April 9, 2008
Budget Passes, Nine Days Late
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The New York legislature completed work on the state budget Wednesday, nine days after the deadline. Lawmakers say it's a good budget, with something for everyone despite the uncertain fiscal times, but fiscal experts worry that the state can't afford all of the spending.
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno says it was one of the most "challenging" budget seasons that he's experienced, with a multi billion dollar deficit, and he decried what he called the "torturous, slow process", as lawmakers huddled behind closed doors during the past couple of weeks to hash out an agreement.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, saying "this has indeed been an interesting four weeks", agreed that the secret meetings might not have been the best way to craft a budget.
But the Senate Leader says under the circumstances, which included a change of Governors From Eliot Spitzer to David Paterson, the final budget bills contain "a lot of good things", including restorations in education, that will raise spending on schools $1.8 billion dollars over last year.
"We've done well on behalf of the people of this state," Bruno said.
Most other lawmakers concurred, saying that the budget also restores money to health care, and expands health insurance for children, without raising broad based taxes.
Lawmakers rejected a number of fees proposed by the former Governor, but the budget contains taxes on Internet purchases, as well as some temporary business taxes and the highest in the nation taxes on cigarettes, at an additional $1.25 a pack. Peter Slocum, with the American Heart Association, says it's a victory for improved health.
"This is the one tax where you really want to be number one in the country," Slocum said. "It means that we as a state are doing everything we can to reduce smoking, especially by kids."
Slocum admits that the tax would be more effective if the state started enforcing the collection of sales tax on cigarettes sold on Indian lands and cracking down on bootleggers.
The budget also includes a $1.2 billion dollar capital plan for economic development, which will include $700 million dollars in job creation projects for upstate New York. The plan had been delayed for over a year, under former Governor Spitzer.
Betsy Lynam, with the watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission, says it's hard to tell whether the budget adds up, because the spending plan was negotiated in secret, and little information was available at the time the bills were passed.
"Unfortunately we've returned to the days when budgets are being made behind closed doors," said Lynam. "There's probably, I would venture to say, only one or two people in the entire state government who know all of what's in it at this point."
Governor David Paterson, who's been on the job for just three and a half workweeks, says he takes responsibility for the secretive nature of the process. But he says he felt that given all the turmoil of recent weeks, it was important to push the spending plan through quickly. He says while he believes the budget is "sound" and will stand up through the next fiscal year, he says he'll begin working with the legislature immediately to start preparing for deeper cuts next year.
"This whole economic situation that we're in right now is not going to be solved through decisions in one budget," said Paterson, who said future spending plans will require a "change in culture, a change in course of where this state's priorities are".
The budget was completed, just as the State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, was releasing his report on revenue collections for the fiscal year that ended on March 31st. DiNapoli says the economy is in "rough shape", and warns that in the coming weeks and months, when it comes to the budget, lawmakers had better "keep an eraser handy".