In the wee hours of Saturday morning, March 31, as most of the state was sound asleep, the New York State Assembly was making final determinations of how to spend $168 billion of New Yorkers’ hard-earned money. Yet again, Albany’s notoriously secretive budget process relied on “emergency” messages of necessity to avoid the normal three-day aging period, was passed with essentially zero public input and was negotiated entirely by four men in a room behind closed doors. It’s no wonder the final budget falls short in so many critical areas. It was a product of politics, ego and haste rather than sound fiscal responsibility.
While the budget was passed ahead of the April 1 deadline, the haphazard 11th-hour negotiations, rush to beat the Easter and Passover holiday and overall lack of even a shred of transparency are simply unacceptable. The Assembly Minority Conference has long advocated for a reformed budget process that represents the best interests of all New Yorkers, with input from the public and each conference of the Legislature. We will continue to push for a better budget — one New Yorkers truly deserve.
Two of New York’s biggest problems are incredibly high taxes and ineffective, runaway economic development programs — yet the budget does virtually nothing to address either of them. New York state wastes billions of dollars on incentive programs that do not create jobs. Despite being asked repeatedly to prove their effectiveness, the governor’s office has not been able to produce any evidence they produce a worthwhile return on investment.
New York has the nation’s worst local and state tax burden, 49th worst economic climate, 47th worst property taxes and second-highest debt burden. New Yorkers need real, broad tax relief. The closest we got was a bizarre gimmick the governor concocted to cheat the new federal tax code, which is as likely to be ruled illegal as it is to fail. Taxpayers are growing tired of the games being played with their money. They want and deserve a spending plan that cuts unnecessary costs and saves them money. Instead, they got another Frankenstein’s monster with little relief.
Another Assembly member, Pamela Harris, resigned ahead of her fraud trial. Harris is just the latest example of a public official betraying the public trust. The governor’s most trusted aide, Joseph Percoco, was just found guilty on felony charges related to his position. The scourge of corruption has inexplicably continued to go unchecked despite trial after trial. The Legislature and executive have done an awful job of policing themselves.
The Assembly Minority Conference has proposed the Public Officers Accountability Act of 2017 to reduce the concentration of power hampering democracy. Some provisions of the bill include term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs, creating an independent ethics panel to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and creating the new crime of failure to report corruption.
What was sorely lacking in the final budget agreement now becomes a call to action for the remainder of the 2018 legislative session.
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York state. You can always contact my district office at 315-781-2030, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, represents the 131st District on the New York State Assembly. He also is Assembly minority leader.