Each year, March 31 and April 1 are circled on the calendar of most state legislators, their staff members, executive branch officials, lobbyists, political reporters and anyone else who pays close attention to the machinations of Albany.
That's because the state fiscal year officially starts in April, and the deadline to get an on-time state budget passed is March 31. For many years, state officials routinely blew past the deadline with little or no care. That's changed in the recent past, especially during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration.
An on-time budget is important because much of what the state puts into its fiscal plan has an impact on how government units at the local level plan for their own budgets. School districts, which by law have to adopt budget proposals in April to put before voters in May, particularly need a state budget to be finalized without delay.
Having said that, more important than an on-time budget is a responsible budget. And that comes from following a process that's transparent and deliberative.
Unfortunately, neither of those qualities have been common during the budget passages of the Cuomo years. Instead, we've often witnessed some of the biggest and most controversial issues in the budget get hashed out in secret by the governor and the Assembly and Senate leaders. They then emerge from their closed-doors negotiations to declare deals are done and the voting needs to start as soon as possible. Individual legislators, particularly in the majority conferences of both chambers, then complain about the inability to property review the bills, hold their noses and vote yes.
Pro-actively planning for an on-time budget that also gets proper public vetting is more important this year than most. The Assembly and Senate released their 2018 session calendar last week, and due to the timing of Easter and Passover, a large chunk of holiday break collides with the budget deadline. There are no session days scheduled from Friday, March 30, until Monday, April 16.
As we look at this calendar, we have two big fears. One is that a budget won't get finalized until the second half of April, which will cause major problems for school budgets. The other worry is that an on-time budget will be jammed through by a group of lawmakers more concerned with getting out of town for their vacations than actually making sure they're adopting responsible fiscal measures.
We urge our state representatives to insist on a better process this year. State Sens. John DeFrancisco, James Seward and Pam Helming — whose districts include parts of Cayuga County and who are all part of the Senate majority conference — must fight to get budget deals finalized a full week before the fiscal year ends. That's the only way to ensure that budget legislation can be properly vetted and the best possible decisions get made.
The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.