Budget Process Dysfunction More Of The Same

A legislative column from Assemblyman Dave McDonough (R, C, I – Merrick)

With less than two weeks remaining before the start of New York’s next fiscal year, only three people out of 19 million New Yorkers have any idea what the state budget may end up looking like. In fact, Sheldon Silver may be the only person in all of New York who knows what the budget may look like due to his notorious hardball negotiating tactics.

At this point in time, information is sparse at best and the situation could change at any moment. I have been in constant contact with the offices of Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos regarding the budget, but, up to this point, both men have been shut out of negotiations. This refusal to allow opposing viewpoints at the negotiating table has resulted in the three legislative leaders, all from New York City, meeting behind closed doors and negotiating a budget of more than $120 billion, which should treat all New Yorkers fairly. It is precisely these actions which typify New York politics and have caused New Yorkers to lose faith in their elected officials.

What we know right now is that New York is facing the toughest economic conditions it has seen since, perhaps, the Great Depression. Unemployment may reach ten percent, retirement plans and stock portfolios have been devastated and New York State is facing a $13.5 billion deficit as a result of Wall Street’s crash and the subsequent decease in tax revenue. At the same time, counties continue to raise property taxes to pay for unfunded mandates passed down by the state and our public education system is paying the greatest price. Additionally, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which many Nassau County residents use to get to and from work, is on the verge of collapse; yet, there is no clear rescue plan.

It seems evident to my me and my colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference that two heads are better than one and five heads are better than three. So why is it that Tedisco and Skelos have been left out of the negotiating process? The answer, pure and simple, is political maneuvering. One would think that a budget process headed by the three legislative leaders would move along swiftly and they would have nothing to hide. However, when asked for a solution to just the MTA’s problem, Paterson, Smith and Silver each gave a different answer and each refused to back down for fear of looking weak to their own members or the public.

When President Obama won the presidency just four short months ago, he vowed to work in a bipartisan manner. Since Sheldon Silver echoed those words at the start of this legislative session, how, then, does he explain the exclusion of the minority leaders from both houses from recent leaders’ meetings and the elimination of conference committees that are held in public for all citizens and media to attend? He simply states that if the budget is negotiated between him, Governor Paterson and Senator Smith there is no need for the oversight called for in the Budget Reform Act of 2007.

Ultimately, the losers in this three-ring circus of a budget process are the principles of our representative democracy and the people of New York. Now, more than ever, the people need to have their voice heard and represented in Albany. Paterson, Smith and Silver must open up the negotiating process to rank-and-file legislators who represent the voices of 19 million New Yorkers. The taxpayers do not deserve to be left in the dark on where their $120 billion are going. New Yorkers, too, must answer this call to action because, as the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”