Governor’s Proposed Budget Shows Fiscal Restraint; Disappointed with Ag & Tug Hill Commission

Legislative Column by Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C-Black River)

Governor Cuomo unveiled his 2011-12 Executive Budget earlier this week, and while there is no question that this year’s budget will be radically different than its predecessors, the Executive Budget is a starting point, not the finish line.

The governor’s fiscal austerity budget reflects the fact that years of reckless taxing, spending and borrowing have left New York’s finances in “critical condition.” It’s a fact - state spending must change in order to close the current $10 billion deficit - but what matters more is how we change our spending habits. Namely, I am looking for a committed effort on restructuring government entities to reduce overlapping functions to not only save money, but to improve the quality of service.

Governor Cuomo’s spending package is complex and will require careful examination to truly understand how it will impact the state and my district. My priority is ensuring our community/region isn’t unfairly targeted and that there is a “shared sacrifice” throughout the state. One thing I will not allow is any attempt to balance the state budget on the backs of my constituents or our district.

At first glance, I already can see some flaws in the executive budget. The first disappointment I have with the governor’s plan is his disregard of agriculture as an economic engine in upstate New York. Included in the budget is $1.2 million allocated for the Department of Agriculture and Markets for agricultural programs, such as the New York State Apple Association, New York State Wine and Grape Foundation, the Quality Milk Lab, and more. That’s $1.2 million to be divided up over ALL of the valuable agricultural programs in the state. Once this small pot of money is hashed up among a dozen or more programs, no program will actually be able to function productively on its respective allotment. The money essentially keeps the organization running administratively, but with no funding for actual research or outreach activities.

It’s time our governor and our elected friends from downstate start looking at agriculture funding as an investment in economic development and not just spending. One only needs to look at the Farm Viability Institute as an example of state dollars put to good use. For every $1 invested in the Institute’s research, $7 was created and put back into the New York state economy.

Furthermore, the executive budget calls for the elimination of the Tug Hill Commission. While I respect and applaud the governor’s vision to reduce and consolidate government agencies, the Tug Hill Commission performs valuable services for Northern New York, and it does so locally, through local people. There is something to be said for being able to pick up the phone and talk directly to a local economic development expert, rather than talking to an automated message service and having to press “1” multiple times before speaking to an actual person.

Furthermore, the Tug Hill Commission works directly with local governments to help them with shared services projects. The governor has made it clear that municipal consolidation is a priority of his. I am perplexed as to why the governor then singled out the Tug Hill Commission as the only one, out of 200 Commissions statewide, to be dissolved when the Tug Hill Commission is doing such great work in regard to shared services.

Another aspect of the budget that is on the minds of many is the proposal to close New York state prisons. I am open to the governor’s proposal to create a task force to study which prisons should be eliminated, but I will keep my eye on this process to make sure that the North Country is adequately represented on this task force.

Governor Cuomo’s spending package is complex and will require careful examination to truly understand how it will impact the state and my district. It’s not a question of “if” we need to shrink the size and cost of government, but “how” best to do so. The process cannot be just “cut, cut, cut” - we need to look at restructuring, redesigning and reforming state government. Going forward, I plan to listen to you, the residents in my district, and respond to your needs.

As always, if you have questions or concerns regarding the budget process, or any other state matter, do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached at 315-287-2384, or by e-mail at