There probably was no chance the budget process in Albany would go smoothly this year. The karma was that bad.
And now the deadline for an on-time $152 billion state budget for 2017-18 has been busted for the first time in seven years. But even as that old Albany staple recurred, some things never went away: lawmakers giving conflicting accounts of behind-closed-doors negotiations, no one certain about how the issues are connected, legislators ultimately voting on measures — albeit temporary ones so far — that they have not had time to read.
The process is deplorable.
Culprits, we’ve got a few: Albany’s normal dysfunction is a potent derailment threat all by itself. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s national ambitions mean he must deliver the goods to impress progressive Democrats. A legislature still smarting from, and blaming Cuomo for, the pay raise it never got is spoiling for a fight and in a nasty mood. Uncertainty about what President Donald Trump’s federal budget will mean for New York has led to arguments about how to prepare for cuts. Poisonous vapors from Washington have hardened positions across the political spectrum.
Pass a budget before the break
Solutions, we’ve got one: Pass a budget, a reasonable one with policies that have broad if not universal support and some Trump precautions, like the contingencies for possible Medicaid cuts in the extender bills considered Monday which mostly maintain current spending for two months to ensure that the state continues to function.
And pass it this week. We prefer a budget done right to one done on time, and don’t mind a little lateness. But the legislature wants to leave for Easter break on Thursday and doesn’t return until April 24. That’s a problem for school funding in particular.
Only a few truly contentious issues remain. Raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. New York and North Carolina are the only states that still try 16-year-olds as adults. The reform is long overdue. Teens accused of nonviolent crimes belong in youth court; those charged with violent crimes, especially ones committed with a deadly weapon, do not.
OK the move for free public college
A version of Cuomo’s proposal for free public college tuition should be approved, but not his idea to help fund it with a 10% assessment of those colleges’ foundations. These foundations are private, most donations to them are directed to specific purposes like funding buildings or recruiting professors, and taking from them to fund a different aspect of public higher education is just a shell game.
The extender did include $2.5 billion for clean-water infrastructure, a terrific move, and designated at least $200 million of that for NYC.
But do not approve a new 421a tax credit for developers who build affordable housing. The old one never worked because developers got too many breaks and built too few affordable units. There’s no reason to think a new one will be any better. The Assembly wants to tie the tax break to reviewing rent control regulations in two years instead of four. That’s short sighted.
The clock is ticking, but there’s time to get it right.