AP: Budget spending PDF Print E-mail
Written by MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer   
Sunday, April 01, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — For New Yorkers, the state fiscal year that begins Sunday morning will mean more charter schools, a bigger tax rebate, and no end to the complaints about big-spending, secretive Albany.
But exactly when the 2007-08 state budget, worth about $121 billion, is adopted to provide that was uncertain Saturday night. With less than five hours left to pass an on-time budget, the massive school aid bills that can take four hours alone to print were still getting final approvals before drafting. The fallback would be a brief session on Sunday, or Monday, which would blow the chance for a third straight on-time budget after 20 years of failure.
''Until you actually vote and get it done, anything can happen in this place,'' said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
But the vast majority of the budget that increases spending at nearly three times the inflation rate was clear.
''This rivals some of the biggest increases from the Pataki and Cuomo eras,'' said analyst E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy. ''It doesn't really address the fundamental problems of taxing and spending.''
''There's a very high price to be paid for an on-time budget,'' he said. ''You have to be willing to lock the place down. That's the only recourse for a governor.''
Still, he notes if Spitzer succeeded in including some of his spending controls, as he said he did, that could yield dividends for years to come. ''We just don't know because of the secretive nature.''
For New Yorkers, the budget holds:
— Tax rebates. Checks will be sent out later this year to property taxpayers amounting to a doubling of the $300 to $1,000 checks cut last year. The state's STAR property tax subsidy would also increase under the $1.3 billion tax relief plan.
— School aid. Nearly $2 billion will be added to the $17 billion spent in 2006-07.
— Charter schools. The state will authorize up to 100 more charter schools — doubling the current limit — with as many as 50 in New York City.
— Business tax loophole closer. The budget will close a loophole sought by Spitzer used by a few major corporations. The tax hit will be balanced by other business tax cuts. In theory that will make New York a more attractive address for business.
— $100 million to boost high-tech research and development, including stem cell research.
But dropped in the frenzy of the budget in the last few days were: Spitzer's expanded bottle bill to require nickel deposits on non-carbonated drinks, pay raises for judges and legislators and Spitzer's $1,000 tax deduction for families with kids in private schools.
So, who won?
It's an annual question that polls seem to indicate means little outside the Capitol. But this was the biggest test yet of Spitzer, who was elected with a record share of the vote on a platform of changing Albany ''on Day One.''
Most editorials, long boosters of Spitzer, were shades of the New York Post view: ''The governor who swept into office on a pledge to 'change everything' about Albany — most especially its backroom-brokered, special interest driven budgeting — has managed to change ... virtually nothing.''
The New York Daily News disagreed, saying Spitzer's budget deal ''marks a historic shift in state priorities'' by cutting Medicaid spending and driving more aid to high-needs schools. The Elmira Star-Gazette blamed budget failures on the Legislature for ''busting the governor's bottom line by nearly $1 billion.''
But to borrow the odd phrase Bruno uses to explain the Assembly and governor's different budget forecasts, deciding winners and losers ''depends on how you count.''
Here's a scorecard for Day 90:
— The ''Spitzer lost'' argument. Compared to his Jan. 31 executive budget proposal, he now has to restore almost 48 percent of his cuts in Medicaid funding to hospitals and almost 68 percent of cuts to nursing homes with whom he waged a multimillion dollar broadcast ad fight. He also agreed to spend $440 million more on school aid over his own $1.4 billion aid increase because Senate Republicans wanted more for wealthier, but highly taxed schools in their Long Island power base. The private school tax deduction and expanded bottle bill were also dropped. Overall, his $121.6 billion budget proposal — already twice the inflation — grew by about $1 billion despite his promises to control spending.
— The ''Spitzer won'' argument. Compared to just about any year in the last 30, Spitzer's compromises still toppled some of Albany's seemingly intractable status quo. He cut Medicaid spending by $1 billion — he had hoped for $2 billion — despite spirited lobbying by a hospital and union alliance so strong that a few years ago it directly negotiated billions of dollars in aid behind closed doors with Gov. George Pataki, Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. By contrast, most years spending on that $45 billion program just climbs. Spitzer also secured his plan to reduce future growth, from 8 percent a year to less than 1 percent.
Spitzer also says he did what governors since Hugh Carey failed to do: He broke the ''shares'' system on which the Senate's Republican majority lives. Instead, Spitzer's new formula will base school aid on need, not a region's share of enrollment that guaranteed Long Island 13 percent of school aid every year. Lawmakers will have to try each year to get additional aid, like the Senate GOP did this year, so they don't believe the shares system is completely gone.
Spitzer also turned back the Democrat-led Assembly's push for a local vote on charter schools that could have effectively ended the privately run public schools upstate opposed by teachers unions and traditional public schools. Silver sought a local vote that could reject a charter school; he got a public hearing for state officials to merely consider testimony. Spitzer also doubled the number of charter schools.
— The ''New Yorkers and Albany reform lost'' argument. For all the talk of reforming Albany by Spitzer, Bruno and Silver, the last three weeks was a stroll down Pataki Lane.
Here's what they said in January of budget reform agreement:
''The drive to improve accountability in state government begins with the budget,'' said Spitzer. ''For decades, the budget process has been characterized by secrecy, gamesmanship and a lack of accountability.''
''We will continue to rely upon the joint conference committees,'' Silver said. ''We will have a more transparent, more easily understood budget process.''
''These budget reforms will help bring greater openness, transparency and accountability to the state budget and help ensure that it is passed on time,'' Bruno said.
Here's what they did:
The critical talks were private, as Bruno, Silver, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith and Republican Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco met for six hours deep in Spitzer's executive chamber. Afterward, they refused to release details, insisting the rank-and-file were really in charge and would have to make the final decisions in open session.
Now the leaders know they can break their own budget reform measure when they have to get a good budget on-time — which, was the goal of budget reform.
''This is clearly a breakdown in the process of open government,'' said Rachel Leon of Common Cause-New York. ''This is a complete reverting back to three-men-in-a-room and this shows that process does impact product because we don't know what's in the budget and what's not.''



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