There’s pride on the line, murmurs around the water cooler and intense competition.
Instead of office pools, your tax dollars and government services are at stake.
Instead of stats and brackets, you’re focused on appropriations and negotiations.
Instead of ESPN news, you’re reading Albany Matters.
Instead of the final four, you’re enraptured by tax cuts, school aid, Medicaid funding and municipal projects.
If any of the above apply, you might have a case of March Madness…wonk style.
While the NCAA basketball championship will be settled by next Monday, the New York State budget could drag on for weeks past its March 31 deadline.
A basketball play can take as little as a couple of seconds, but proposed budget bills must be printed and “aged” (ideally, even read by members) before legislature can vote. In Albany, the shot clock has to last several days, clearly thwarting the state’s chance to boost revenues by selling tickets and television spots to the big drawn-out event.
Will Albany pass an on time budget for the second time in a row, or will this year’s budget talks go into overtime? It all depends on the Albany final four—Bruno, Silver, Pataki and the Courts—as the remaining contentious items are settled.
Despite his health problems last month, Pataki (and his surrogates) spent little time on the bench during the negotiations. He recently returned to the state capitol to continue these remaining days of deliberations in person.
Currently, the proposed Senate and Assembly budgets are larger than the Governor’s, with discrepancies, such as competing plans to deal with Medicaid fraud and what sort of tax cuts to offer, including per child education credits, as well as reductions in sales, property and other taxes. Two other important stats that don’t seem to reconcile are the $48 billion in state debt (up from when Pataki took office and significantly higher if you include public authority debt loads) and this Novermber 7th…Election Day. Local aid is always a favorite topic for representatives, especially in an election year, and this time around the Legislature agreed upon a $648.6 million package to various municipalities.
The hottest match up this budget season may be the education issue. Just last week, the courts affirmed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement decision, asserting that the state owes city schools somewhere between $4.7 and $5.63 billion due April 1, with an additional $9.2 billion to fix up school infrastructure.
Though the court issued a ruling, it does not have the standing to be an effective referee. As such, the Governor and Legislature can hustle the court on the specifics. Whether or not authorities will be able to enforce this budget foul is unclear, but lawyers will likely be coming off the bench again.
With the players all on the court in the final minutes (in reality days or weeks) of budget talks, the words are getting spicy. At a recent briefing, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said of the Pataki’s budget office, “I think they ought to go back to kindergarten and learn how to count,” and following up with the retort, “I have a budget director who knows how to count.” Pataki played the “wrong” and “inappropriate” comments off, also suggesting that Bruno was under pressure.
Perhaps Assembly minority leader and former NCAA basketball star Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady) can push for changes. Journalists have suggested he’ll press the Legislature and now is the time, but being in the minority on the Assembly, he is effectively playing from the bench, perhaps serving as a cheerleader.
Officials may benefit in other ways from running down the clock as well. Slow budget negotiations give politicians leeway when handling crises. Just three weeks ago, Assemblymen Paul Tonko and Jim Tedisco assured constituents that a potential budget shortfall in the Mohonasen School District would not be a problem, “stressing the budget is nowhere near finalized.” Procrastination and stall tactics can have a comforting effect too, but now with regulation time ticking down, someone must act or at least explain the delays.
SUNY Albany lost to UCLA in the NCAA tournament this month, but perhaps the Governor and Legislature can turn things around for the capitol city in time for the big dance. Either way, be sure to pop plenty of popcorn for your budget watching party and remember to cheer loudly for your favorite appropriation.
By Sydney Beveridge on March 27, 2006, 1:00 pm
In category: Eye on Albany | 2 Comments »