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State Budget

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, left, and Sen. Deputy Majority Leader Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse talk in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol Friday.

As the final pieces of the 2018-19 state budget were being rolled out to the public, the self-congratulatory press releases came from the leaders who crafted the deals:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: "This budget invests in the shared priorities of hardworking New Yorkers — affordability, opportunity, and security. It is a solid and fiscally responsible budget that protects taxpayers, creates jobs, and supports many other quality-of-life issues important to middle-class families across the state.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie: "With a focus on Families First, we have crafted a spending plan that makes the necessary investments to strengthen our economy, support working people and preserve essential services that are important to so many citizens."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "This budget is a bold blueprint for progressive action that builds on seven years of success and helps New York continue to lead amid a concerted and sustained assault from Washington on our values and principles."

Sounds impressive. But before you start feeling good about New York state government, consider when these statements came out.

Flanagan's was emailed at 11:39 p.m. Friday. Heastie's came out at 4:01 a.m. Saturday. The governor's, issued before votes were finalized, was released at 10:23 p.m. Friday.

All three were the first specific messages to New Yorkers about what was in their budget, and all three came late in the night on a holiday weekend. 

There was no state-required three-day window for the budget bills to age and allow legislators time to review them and collect feedback from constituents. And there was no acknowledgment from any of these leaders about why this year's budget was done in such a rushed, non-transparent manner.

Of course, this is hardly new for Albany. Whether they are absurdly late in getting the budget passed or irresponsibly rushed to get one passed by the April 1 deadline, state government leaders have never given much regard to public review and input into the most important job they complete every year.

And yet we, the people of New York, continue to send the same representatives back to the state Capitol. 

We urge everyone to keep this sham of a process in mind as they evaluate their choices for state office this fall. Your individual state legislators will openly decry the process on the campaign trail, but ask them what they have done personally to reform the way things are done. You'll likely hear a lot of deflecting, possibly even some straight-up lying.

Of course, if change is to happen, we also need informed challengers who present a clear alternative to the status quo. Too often, Albany incumbents face either weak opposition or no opponent at all.

What can change that? Election law reforms that foster true competition. Reforms that give people better access to the voting booth. Reforms that limit the power of special interests to buy and sell influence.

As the final months of this year's legislative session play out, we urge New Yorkers to demand these types of changes from their elected officials.

The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.

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