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by Jay Gallagher

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How not to pass a budget

Wonder why it might be tough to get a budget passed?

While taxpayers are still waiting for each house of the Legislature to present their budget proposals, Senate Republicans today pushed a “comprehensive property-tax relief plan’’ with only the vaguest and most general ideas about how to pay for it.

While the state already has a $9.2 billion budget hole, the GOP plan would cost more than $2 billion, a GOP senator, Betty Little of Queensbury, Warren County, said this week.

She and other Republicans said that the money could be made up by a cap
on state spending, which they will push in budget negotiations. Once public conference committees on the budget are established, the Republicans promise to outline other savings in the budget that could be used to include school property-tax rebates in the new budget.

This of course is a great time not to be in charge of anything, which is the position the Republicans find themselves in, since they can point fingers and propose tax cuts and urge spending restorations without wondering whether the numbers will add up. You can almost see them salivating the closer November gets and they consider their chances of wiping out the thin (32-30) Democratic majority, knocking off incumbents who vote for a budget that will include so much bad news.

For their part, Democrats in neither house have yet to identify what they think should be done to close the budget gap. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Brooklyn, said it is unlikely his house would approve of any tax hikes. And 16 Senate Democrats signed a letter sent to Gov. David Paterson this week saying they will vote against any budget plan that includes cuts to education. (Paterson proposed a trim of 5 percent, or about $1.4 billion.) They somehow forgot to mention where the money lost from such actions should come from.

What’s next? Both houses are expected to approve some wishful thinking in their budget plans (more gambling revenue, money from taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations).

The idea seems to be to avoid hard decisions for as long as possible, which from the perspective of lawmakers looks like their best political strategy. As for a fiscal strategy, it looks disastrous. It’s how we got to this point in the first place.

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