“New Yorkers didn’t get ethics reform in the final 2016-17 State Budget, but they got the most secretive negotiation in history and a job-crushing minimum wage hike. While some officials will take an obligatory victory lap, the rest of New York watches in disbelief as Albany’s culture remains unchanged as two former legislative leaders face prison time for corruption crimes.
Lawmakers were asked to vote on spending bills that omitted spending details, a new low for the budget process. All of this in the name of an ‘on-time budget’ that was ultimately late anyway. There is no reason to substitute sound fiscal policy for a pat on the back for hitting a ceremonial deadline. From start to finish, the 2016-17 budget process was a disgraceful insult to New Yorkers, yet Gov. Cuomo has the audacity to call it the ‘best budget’ he has had a hand in crafting.
The budget fails on a number of levels. Some of its lowlights include:
- ‘Three-men-in-a-room’ negotiations that took place in private, without the input of minority conferences who together represent millions of New Yorkers. Even the mere existence of the exclusory meetings was kept quiet, and held away from the Capitol, establishing a new level of secrecy and dysfunction;
- A minimum wage hike that defies basic free-market principles. The 67 percent increase will kill jobs, drive up the price of goods and services and hurt the working poor. The uneven and haphazard phasing in of the program is evidence of its inevitable ineffectiveness;
- A paid family leave program that represents another expensive mandate; and
- The inexcusable lack of ethics reform on the heels of two legislative leaders being charged and convicted of felony corruption charges. If ever there was a time to strike while the iron is hot, this was our opportunity.
As troubling as the budget process was, the final product did include measures the Assembly Minority Conference vigorously advocated, including:
- A $24.2 billion investment in education including the removal of the crippling Gap Elimination Adjustment, which severely inhibited school districts and limited the potency of the state’s education system;
- Much-needed tax cuts for middle-class families earning between $26,000 and $300,000;
- Overdue funding parity between upstate and downstate infrastructure projects, including the much needed repair of critical roads and bridges— the arteries and veins of commerce and business;
- $25 million for heroin and opioid substance abuse services; and
- An increase in community college base aid of $100 per student.
As the Legislature looks toward its post-budget work, we must make the most of the coming months to correct many of the mistakes contained in this spending plan and enact common-sense policies that move the state in a better direction.”