Saturday, February 19, 2011

Governor plugs holes with more holes

Tasked with the responsibility of closing a budget deficit in excess of $10 billion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has drafted a budget that is still lacking billions of dollars in specifics, which annoys good government groups, while some local legislators are prepared to give the governor the benefit of the doubt.
In its current form, the budget doesn’t include scheduled amendments from the governor and is still waiting on specific recommendations from task forces on mandate relief and Medicaid, which are supposed to target billions in savings.
Additionally, the budget doesn't include any information about planned prison closings that are going to be handled by a task force that won't even be assembled until after the budget's deadline passes.
“I’m trying to be easygoing,” said Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga. “The gentleman inherited a mess.”
For now, McDonald said he will be patient and trust the governor. However, he does expect details from the governor and his agency heads during the ongoing budget hearings. “You cannot expect me on April 1 to vote blind,” said McDonald.
This was also a concern for Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, who said there needs to be time for evaluation, while suggesting that the governor was trying to exclude the influence of special interests with the timetable.
Regarding Cuomo's decision to remove the legislature's influence over prison closures, Tedisco said the governor was probably motivated by the legislature's track record of avoiding hard choices.
He argued, "Sometimes there need to be an adult in the room," and maybe Cuomo is the adult forcing the legislature to do the right thing.
These tactics have not been well-received by some good-government groups and have created some awkward moments at public hearings on the budget, with Assemblyman Jeff Aubry engaging in a particularly fruitless back-and-forth with outgoing ESDC head Dennis Mullen.
After being unable to garner any meaningful answers from Mullen, Aubry asked for someone else to direct his questions to.
Lawrence Norden, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice,said the late disclosure of details will limit the ability of the public to knowledgeably add input to the budget process. He added that the ambiguities in the budget mean that the legislative hearings will be limited to generalities and broad themes on certain areas.
Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, added that this method undermines the public process.
Matt Ryan, the executive director of New York Jobs with Justice, was particularly perturbed about the ambiguity in the proposed regional economic councils. He said the state Legislature shouldn’t commit to spending hundreds of millions on economic development before it can be assured there is transparency and accountability in the system, which he argued is impossible without details.
“We’ve mostly been getting a shrug,” said Ryan about his inquiries into the councils.

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