State budget negotiations are going on more or less as usual in Albany, and that does not bode well for New Yorkers who may very well wake up one morning less than a week from now to find that the budget has been passed without their knowledge and with little, in any, input from their district representatives.
Though the infamous "three men in a room" talks have been altered slightly by a power-sharing arrangement in the Senate, the bulk of negotiations continue to be held behind closed doors between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.
Education has been a big issue, as it should be, with a price tag of about $22 billion. Taxpayers all over the state are waiting to find out how aid to school districts will be distributed; some are lobbying to allow students in the country illegally to obtain state aid for college; and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has complicated possible funding for prekindergarten by rallying those who believe it should be paid for through a tax on the rich.
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Cuomo, meanwhile, has been trying to solidify support for his property tax freeze, a plan that would require local governments to prove that they've made progress in cost-sharing and consolidation. Some say it's a commonsense approach. Others call it a gimmick. Unfortunately, whether this or any other item becomes law or not is going to come as a surprise to almost everybody.
The deadline for the state budget is April 1, and we've seen in recent years how much lawmakers love to pat themselves on the back for having passed on-time budgets. But budget bills will be of greater benefit to people of the state if they are crafted thoughtfully rather than hurriedly.
If the budget is rushed in these final days on March, it won't matter to New Yorkers whether is was three or four men in a room who put it together. The price that taxpayers will pay is finding out that decisions about where how tens of billions of dollars will be spent was made without the input of the majority of Albany officeholders elected to represent them.