Are We Talking about the Same NY Budget Here?

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Well, a deadline is met again and New York State budget preparers jump up to take credit like a "D" student who has finally learned he needs to do his homework on time.

But has the "D" student turned in something that will make the grade? How is this state budget that sets (another) new record for spending being judged? Well, if you were simply to listen and read the comments and quotes about it… you might get a headache. Or you might think there is a strong bout of collective bi-polar disorder out there:

—"It’s an accountable, responsible, responsive budget." said State Sen. Majority Leader Joe Bruno to Karen DeWitt on 3/30/06.

—"The budget approved by the Legislature will be politically popular, but it is fiscally irresponsible." Press release from Tom Suozzi’s campaign. Suozzi is a Democrat running for governor on 3/29/06

As you know by now, this budget has something for everyone. Tax rebate checks for voters (just in time for the fall elections), increases for every conceivable local government. In Rochester, Bob Duffy and Manuel Rivera (the mayor and the city schools superintendent respectively) are beside themselves with excitement over the increase they landed in the budget. And so are others:

—"$11.2 Billion Albany Win for Mike on Ed Spending" – New York Daily News headline on NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s reaction to landing more cash for school aid.

—"Last night at around 9:30 I was literally jumping up and down on my couch in my (Albany) office." – State Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, in a quote to the Journal News on 3/30/06. This was in reaction to more state aid for the city of Yonkers.

Well… some others:

—"In the New York of the real world, we can not afford a government that operates like this." – The New York State Business Council, a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and a press release on 3/29/06.

—"Today the Legislature is passing a tax, spend and borrow plan that will lead to very large out year deficits. Their budget not only dramatically increases spending, but provides no reform of the two areas with the largest spending growth – Medicaid and education." – John Faso, Republican running for governor in a press statement on 3/31/06.

But surely everything is okay for the governor… and those who want to replace George Pataki next year:

—"We are assuming the governor will see the wisdom of our budget."- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to the Jay Gallagher and Cara Matthews of GNS on 3/29/06, talking about Pataki’s willingness to accept this budget plan.

—"The whole thing is like a big, exploding cigar for the next governor. ‘Here’s a Cuban’ … Boom!" – E.J. McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for New York State Policy, in an Associated Press report on 3/29/06.

—"Like everyone else, I am wary about the way spending is being increased at some levels." – said Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic candidate for governor in the same article.

But what did you expect… this was a budget with a surplus. And what else do you do with a surplus. You give it back, right?:

—"One of the things that is very important to me is that the state give back to hardworking taxpayers their money." – state Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton to Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin on 3/30/06, on the end of year budget surplus.

—"Legislative leaders are passing up a chance to reduce New York state’s excessive debt burden — already one of the highest in the nation — and to achieve structural balance between revenues and spending." Citizens Budget Commission statement on 3/29/06.

—"Even when the state is flush with money, the poor don’t get a cut of the pie." – Mark Dunlea, Associate Director of Hunger Action, a press release on 3/29/06

—"Nobody seems willing or able to stop the politicians in Albany from spending themselves into serious fiscal trouble, not so much for the budget year ahead but for many years after."- Newsday Editorial on 3/26/06

So what do we say about the "D" student who gets his homework in on time? Most of us don’t pat him on the head for simply meeting a deadline. We say "about time." But in this state, we are not yet grappling with what the student has wrought with the latest budget assignment. It’s spending more than before. It’s giving away plenty. But somehow we know that it still has begun to scratch the surface when it comes to Albany’s fiscal situation. And so the reaction sounds slightly inconsistent from report to report. Sometimes within the same report – by the same source.

—"If we didn’t get the state aid increase at that level, I never would have been able to deliver a budget with a 0-percent tax increase." Shawn Hogan, mayor of Steuben County city of Hornell, to the Hornell Evening Tribune on 3/30/06.

—"I think we spend too much money in New York state. I think we need to rein in that spending." – The same Mayor Hogan in the same article.

I don’t blame Hogan. I think we’re all a bit in a bind at what’s being offered by Albany.

At least it’s on time… I guess.