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Cuomo and legislator pass fourth consecutive on-time state budget

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature have again approved a budget before the end of the fiscal year. This is the fourth straight budget passed on time, something that hasn’t been done in more than 40 years since Nelson Rockefeller was governor.

On Monday, members of the Assembly and Senate passed the $138 billion budget. It offers enough to keep just about everyone content.

The state budget reduces but maintains the Gap Elimination Adjustment. It also increases education aid by $1.5 billion, a 5.3 percent hike. In addition, the budget offers $1.5 billion over the next five years to implement universal full-day prekindergarten programs throughout the state.

Gov. Cuomo had proposed a complicated method of providing property tax relief to homeowners. The idea was to encourage local governments and school districts to keep their budgets within the tax cap and consolidate functions whenever possible. Legislators said the governor’s proposal penalized taxing bodies that have already made efforts to share services, so they were able to create more flexibility in the plan while retaining the same goal.

“This budget builds on the state’s progress over the past three years in order to grow the economy and create new opportunities for New Yorkers and their families,” Gov. Cuomo said in a news release. “This budget maintains the fiscal discipline that has characterized the last three years of progress by holding the growth in spending below 2 percent while also making broad tax cuts that will help homeowners and businesses thrive. It also contains targeted investments that will transform our schools; ensure safer, cleaner and fairer communities; and restore the public’s trust in government. This budget contains the framework that will allow us to build a new New York, and I commend the members of the Senate and the Assembly who have joined us to continue that progress.”

The fourth consecutive on-time budget is a mark of the political abilities of the governor and a tribute to former Gov. David A. Paterson, who almost single-handedly reversed the tradition of late budgets in New York. During the summer of 2010, Gov. Paterson took direct aim at member items tacked on to the budget by members of the Senate and Assembly by using the power of the line-item veto to eliminate more than 6,000 member items.

However, he trumped his symbolic demise of member items when he found legal basis to expand his executive power to use budget extenders. The extender is a powerful tool that allows the governor to maintain the business of the state using the proposed budget as the spending plan without approval of the Legislature.

The action restored the balance of power between the Legislature and the governor, and Gov. Cuomo has taken advantage of the opportunity to be a powerful participant in the adoption of an on-time budget. No longer are New Yorkers subjected to months of budget bargaining and political posturing to the detriment of the fiscal health of the state.

Unfortunately, Gov. Cuomo and members of the Legislature didn’t go far enough in creating a framework of ethics that would help restore people’s faith in state government. They adopted some modest reforms, but much more needs to be accomplished to truly clean house.

They also decided to flirt with campaign-finance reform by passing a measure to offer matching funds for a single race, that of state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. He previously made recommendations for such a pilot program involving his office, but legislators chose to adopt a plan with differing contribution limits. Comptroller DiNapoli believes this program is being rushed through the system and may not work as intended, thus showing campaign-finance reform to be impractical.

Overall, however, the state budget is a reasonable plan to provide assistance where it’s most needed and offer vital tax relief to property owners. This is another step forward in creating the kind of economy necessary to spur jobs and maintain services to residents throughout the state.

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