With the passage of the second consecutive on-time budget for New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his legislative partners _ Senate Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver _ have done more than erase a $2 billion deficit.
They have erased the prefix "Dysfunctional" from virtually every previous mention of New York's government.
"This state government has come a very long way in a very short period of time," Cuomo said at a triumphant media conference Friday. "At one point this state government was a joke."
It was, to be sure, not a very funny joke, with the Republican Senate, the Democratic Assembly and whoever happened to be governor feuding and fussing and year after year missing the April 1 budget deadline. At one time, 23 of 25 state budgets missed the deadline, causing schools, hospitals and other entities to have to guess how much state aid they would receive.
But in passing the first consecutive on-time budgets since 2005 and 2006, Cuomo, Silver and Skelos have restored some faith that Albany can get things done.
Make no mistake, New York remains one of the top-taxed states in the union, with some of the highest fees and utility rates. But in the 15 months of Cuomo's administration, there is much to praise, if not celebrate.
The $132.5 billion budget shows only a 1.9 percent increase in spending and includes a 4 percent increase in funding for education and Medicaid. There's also $16 billion in there for jobs and infrastructure improvements, with $100 million targeted for upstate road and bridge projects.
Through the years, we have taken issue with the Legislature's "member items," money allocated to each senator or assemblyman to basically dole out to causes in their districts, giving the appearance of the legislator bequeathing the funds himself.
Member items should more-accurately be referred to as "incumbent re-election money." There are none in the new budget, but there are troubling items buried in the fine print that allocates funds without a specific recipient. For instance, there is $40 million available for Cuomo or leaders in the Legislature to give to schools and nonprofits beyond their regular funding.
One thing that Cuomo could not persuade the Legislature to pass was a "health exchange" to comply with President Barack Obama's health care legislation and create a state health insurance market. That was fine with Cuomo, who said he will simply create the entity by executive order.
As in any budget, there are nits to pick and choices to second-guess. But it's comforting to know that _ for a change _ the joke isn't on New York citizens, anymore.