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April 2, 2014

In Our Opinion: Budget looks good enough on paper

The Daily Star

---- — It’s telling that the fact that New York managed an on-time budget this year is still a headline-grabber. 

This is the fourth year in a row that the state Legislature and the governor have managed to do their jobs. And by Albany standards, the process was fairly painless — which just means the “three men in a room” got along. 

The budget the governor signed Tuesday includes more spending for education, the environment and emergency preparation, and cuts property taxes. Each of these are items the governor had made it clear were top priorities, and while there were some squabbles in the Legislature, Cuomo mostly got his way on signature issues such as pre-kindergarten funding and the so-called “property tax freeze.” 

Missing from the highlights provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office is the fact that the budget will cut taxes, not just for homeowners, but also for corporations. It also raises the exemption levels for estate taxes, a move that prompted Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, to observe that “the wealthiest homeowners in the wealthiest communities are the winners” in this budget. 

Another signature issue for the governor — that of corruption and ethics — seems to have withered on the vine. Not only did the Legislature strip away most of Cuomo’s campaign finance reform proposals, the governor also agreed to disband the Moreland Commission he had convened to investigate corruption in the Legislature. 

Needless to say, good-government groups are less than thrilled. The League of Women Voters of New York State said in a statement that they were “particularly disturbed” by this one-two punch to ethics reform. And Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner noted that “it’s back to business as usual with the governor’s blessing.” 

And while the governor has made much of the fact that the budget provides for universal, full-day prekindergarten statewide, Cuomo previously said that individual districts would be able to opt in to the system — meaning there are no assurances when, or even if, these valuable programs will become available locally. 

There is some good news in this budget. We’re excited to learn more about two multimillion-dollar projects planned at SUNY Oneonta, and we’re pleased to hear that a rest area off Interstate 88 in Worcester that had been closed because of lack of funds will be re-opened. The budget also provides funds to open a school-based health center at Richfield Springs Central School, and to provide continuing funding to local efforts such as New York History Day and a tractor rollover safety program. 

The state budget is not perfect, but its relatively smooth passage does help dispel, at least for a little while, the badge of “dysfunctional” for our state legislators. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.