Budget Process to Become More Secretive?
March 11th, 2009
See update after the jump.
It is hard to imagine, but Albany is about to get more secretive. Anyone who was waiting for individual budget proposals from either side of the legislature can stop holding their breath.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters today that he, Gov. David Paterson, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith are hoping to come to an agreement among themselves rather than produce individual budget proposals and then run them through joint budget conference committees, as is customary.
Observers have wondered how the Senate could possibly meet a self imposed deadline to come up with a budget proposal this week. Besides the fact that the Senate majority is still understaffed, insiders say there is a lot of disagreement among Senate Democrats over the budget. So they are going to try to skip all that one-house budget proposal nonsense, and the three men in the room are going to cozy up together and hash it out themselves.
The importance of an on-time budget apparently trumps transparency.
“Secretive government is bad government,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. He said that the move to skip conference committees might also be illegal.
“There is a law that requires them to have conference committees,” said Horner, pointing to the Budget Reform Bill of 2007, which lays out a time line and requirements for undertaking the budget process.
Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, said the move is both indicative of the Democrats’ willingness to operate “behind closed doors” and the Senate Democrats’ state of disorganization.† “They have had trouble putting together a calendar, getting bills to the floor, and getting the votes together to pass anything of substance.”
Smith told reporters the move is not an indication of the Senate’s inability to produce, but instead a product of a realization that “We are all Democrats,” and that, “There’s a lot of things we agree on.”
“This is not how the process is supposed to work,” said Reif. “You should talk to the public and show New Yorkers where you stand. We have not been included in the budget process and we represent 50 percent of the state’s residents.”
Besides its questionable legality, Horner said, the act would be an “insult to the public.”† Horner said that news of the plan came from “imprecise comments” and that the three men in a room might “come to their senses.”
Update: Austin Shafran, spokesperson for Senate Majority leader Malcolm Smith, said that the big three have no intention of skipping conference committees. Instead, he says the budget will go “straight to the conference committees.”
“There is far more agreement than there is disagreement” said Shafran. He says the idea is for the Senate and Assembly to quickly come to points of agreement and hash out the finer points in the conference committees. One of those finer points will likely be Rockefeller Drug reform. Shafran says the legislature will still hold public meetings and still wants public input on the budget. He says the new budget approach, “Will not decrease public input,” but will, “speed up the process.”By David King on March 11, 2009, 5:52 pm
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