Legislature passes almost on-time budget PDF Print E-mail
Written by MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer   
Sunday, April 01, 2007

ALBANY — Republicans who narrowly control the state Senate rolled up big wins in the $121 billion budget passed a day late Sunday, despite a Democratic governor with a historic mandate and an Assembly with a better than 2-to-1 majority.
The results show in crucial spending benefiting Long Island and upstate, the Senate Republicans' longtime political bases: Most of a $300 million add in school aid pushed by the Senate for wealthier but high-taxed suburban schools statewide went to Long Island. And much of the aid to hospitals and nursing homes statewide went to Long Island hospitals despite Gov. Eliot Spitzer's priority of cutting Medicaid funding to the facilities. The Senate also converted Spitzer's property tax cut into direct checks to taxpayers, secured business tax cuts, and cut by more than half the school districts statewide that would get only the 3 percent minimum increase in aid under Spitzer's plan.
"I don't remember, really, having this much success," Bruno said Sunday.
So how did the house with the slimmest of majorities in recent elections get such a good hand? Part of it has to do with the unusual way Albany works. Majority leaders and their members control, absolutely, their house's actions and the budget process still involves three men in a room negotiating.
In the past, Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had Bruno's role for 12 years under Republican Gov. George Pataki — the Republican governor and Senate needed to appease the Assembly's Democratic majority to get anything done in those private negotiations.
"Republicans in the Senate clearly exacted their pound of flesh and at some level it seems to me that's the way the system works," said political science Professor Robert McClure of Syracuse University's Maxwell School.
He also said the Senate and Assembly gains in the face of a governor who brashly promised to change everything in Albany "on Day One" shouldn't be a surprise, as was noted in many editorials critical of Spitzer.
"I've been a little critical, perhaps skeptical, of the governor and his rhetoric, although in the last month or so I think he has been learning a lesson," McClure said. "He's given a little to get a little and the American people and New York newspapers must grow up. That's what politicians must do."
There was plenty in the massive budget, which raises spending 7.3 percent by Spitzer's count, for the governor and Democrat-led Assembly to claim as victories, too.
For example, much of the school aid spending driving increases to the neediest schools was from the Assembly Democrats. The $1 billion in Medicaid cuts to the politically powerful health care industry came from Spitzer. Also, the Legislature added less about 1 percent to his Jan. 31, proposal, slightly less than in most years.
Still, it's a budget that grew faster than inflation. And that's not all: A capital spending program that will likely total $1 billion was pushed from the budget and will still have to be negotiated.
"This is a recipe for continued high taxes in this state," said Assemblyman James Hayes, of Erie County, speaking on the floor for the chamber's Republican minority. "The sound you hear is people leaving New York."
He also opposed the secrecy of the process that included last-minute negotiation breakdowns and waiting for complex bills to be printed. That left rank-and-file lawmakers sometimes with just minutes to view bills of hundreds of pages before a vote was called. All of that extended a late-night session Saturday into Sunday, the first day of the 2007-08 fiscal year, leaving a Capitol with staffers on their second or more days with little or no sleep working around empty pizza boxes and coffee-stained cups.
"It's worse than it has been the last three years," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters about the lack of open negotiations and lawmakers' inability to take time to consider the bills.
"While they're all claiming victories, taxpayers should see it as another sorry example of Albany doing business in the dark," said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy. The spending "is not going to address the property tax problem long term," he said.
Spitzer, however, called it a "spectacular" budget. He noted it cut Medicaid spending by $1 billion, provided $1.3 billion property tax relief aimed at the middle class, started stem cell research with $600 million over six years, provided a record $1.76 billion increase in school aid bringing the total to $19.64 billion, will provide health insurance to 400,000 children, and doubled the number of charter schools to 200.
"When all the surrounding dust settles and the public looks at what we accomplished, you will see this budget hit every one of the objectives I have laid out," Spitzer said.
Still, the Legislature weakened many of his proposals, including restoring more than a quarter of his cuts to hospitals and nursing homes.
"It's a terrific budget," Silver said, noting many of the education initiatives and others began in the Assembly. "This budget basically adopts the Assembly stem cell research proposal," Silver said. "It will create jobs, it will create future technology in New York. It will be a real boon all over New York."



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