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by Jay Gallagher

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is this the time for reforms?

No doubt reporters were a little belligerent today when confronted with another package of budget-reform ideas put forward by Senate Democrats.

Their collective response was whoa! First you ignore reforms passed just three years ago, then you can’t reach a deal on a new budget, so you want to start talking again about making changes in the process?

The answer, when the verbal political underbrush was cut away, was, yup.

The budget was supposed to be passed by April 1, but neither the Assembly nor the Senate can come up with enough cuts to close a potential deficit of more than $9 billion.

Democratic conference leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, said “everything is still on the table.’’

But wait, said the AP’s Michael Gormley. You just got back from a seven-day vacation. Couldn’t you rule anything out in that period of time?

“I did a lot during my vacation,’’ Sampson said. “I reached out to a lot of individuals.’’

The new Senate Democratic plan includes, among other things, shifting the start of the state fiscal year to June 1, establishing budgets for two years instead of one, setting up an independent legislative budget office (like the Congressional Budget Office in Washington) and using the accrual method of accounting, which makes it harder to jigger the books.

In 2007, lawmakers approved a set of reforms that included mandatory open committee meetings to reach some spending decisions. But they didn’t do that either this year or last year.

So, Bill Hammond of the Daily News asked, since you just blew off those laws, why should we believe that you will live by these changes, even if they’re adopted?

Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, argued that you could still pass a budget without, say, having open committee meetings. But once you change the fiscal year, “you have changed the fiscal year.’’

In other words, the new changes would be harder to get around. Not exactly a great moral standard, but it had the advantage of sounding at least a little candid. That’s the way progress is measured in Albany these days.

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