For Immediate Release:
Contact: Susan Lerner
March 30, 2011
Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner issued the following statement regarding the budget process being concluded in Albany
While an on-time budget for New York State is a laudable goal, how we get there is equally important. This year's budget process is distinguished by only one difference from previous years: timing. Otherwise, it remains a closed process, where the people are cut out of the process. The closed and lop-sided budgeting process- no examination, discussion or improvement on the revenue side, only cuts in spending- has generated a multi-billion dollar war of ads between special interests, but no opportunity for true public participation.
An agreement on the state's approx. $132.5 billion budget was announced on Sunday afternoon after a week-end of non-stop, intense negotiations- all conducted, as traditional, behind closed doors. Conference committee meetings the preceding week were a model of efficiency - some hearings scheduled to last for an hour concluded in less than 30 minutes, as discussions were hastily run through, with few, if any details, regarding actual budget numbers. Little, if any, information was provided to the public in most of these hearings. The actual details of the budget are being gradually released, with startling items revealed by scrambling advocates who, like the legislators, cannot hope to review the entire budget before the Friday deadline.
Yet again this year, budget bills require "messages of necessity" to move forward - a practice which Common Cause/NY and other good government groups have long decried. The change in the Senate's procedural rules that "greases the skids" for accelerated passage of budget bills was adopted with no notice in an evening session with few if any, members of the public or press in attendance, yet another highly cynical, political move on the part of the Senate Majority. The procedure excuses why the normal notice procedure needn't be followed smacks of the high-handed disregard for openness, transparency and disrespect for the rule of law that the country has observed in the Wisconsin Legislature. The passage of the rule change raises questions as to whether the State Senate will have any meaningful public debate on the remaining budget bills. And the Assembly is on track, once again, to jam its budget debate into a session that few New Yorkers will be have notice of or be able to follow, because of when it's conducted.
When the dust created by this headlong rush through the budget process settles, New Yorkers will be startled by the choices made by their elected representatives - continued tax breaks and tax loopholes for corporations and wealthy campaign contributors while senior centers and essential services to ordinary New Yorkers are cut yet again.
New Yorkers need and deserve a better budget, one where all aspects of the state's fiscal affairs are on the table. Only an open budget process and strong campaign finance reform, including a voter-owned public funding of elections system, will bring that about. As the outlines of this year's lop-sided budget becomes clear, the urgent need for these changes becomes equally clear.
Office: Common Cause New York
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.