PROGRESS REPORT: The good and bad: A look at the state budget

hoylman-roberts-election-2016-10-06-v01vilprint_webwebBY BRAD HOYLMAN | For even the most casual onlooker, Albany has rarely been a model of functional governance. This year’s budget kabuki theater has provided further evidence that Albany is in serious need of reform.

Budget bills are frequently considered in the state Senate with little or no time for legislators — or the public — to read them. Just last week, we were given 13 minutes to read a 961-page budget bill. That’s due in large part to the fact that negotiations are conducted in secret by the “three men in the room” — the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker. Legislators often learn more about the budget process from reporters on Twitter than from our own colleagues. This opaque process too often results in bad public policy.

That said, there were some victories for New Yorkers in which we can all take pride, thanks to Governor Cuomo and efforts among my Democratic colleagues. I think it’s important to take a minute to discuss the good and the bad in the 2017-2018 New York State Budget. First, the good.

Raise the Age: The budget raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years. Until now, New York was one of just two states that treated 16- and 17-year olds the same as adults, which studies show leads to recidivism and other poor outcomes. Now, most proceedings involving 16- and 17-year olds will be handled in Family Court.

Public Schools: Public schools across the state will receive an additional $700 million in support, representing a 4.25 percent increase over last year (less than what is due our city schools pursuant to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit). The budget also keeps in place the charter school cap, meaning public education dollars won’t be siphoned off further to support new charter schools.

Safe Drinking Water: The budget includes $2.5 billion for water infrastructure across the state. Following the water crisis in Hoosick Falls, I’ve advocate strongly for improved water quality and accountability by corporate polluters.

Environment: The budget maintains last year’s historic increase to the Environmental Protection Fund — our state’s primary source of capital funding for environmental projects — at $300 million.

Protecting Seniors: The budget staved off a proposal that would have removed $27 million in Title XX funds from our senior centers, thereby averting disaster and the potential closure of 62 New York City senior centers. The budget also includes $2 million for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC’s), like Penn South.

But there is much about this budget — both what’s in it and what was left on the chopping block — that is bad.

No Ethics Reform, Again: Even with another new indictment of a Republican state senator being handed out two weeks ago, the budget once again fails to include any ethics reforms. In his budget, the governor included proposals for closing the notorious “LLC loophole,” instituting early voting and addressing the issue of outside income. It’s time the Senate got on board.

Eliminating a Memorial to Orlando: I was shocked to see the Senate removed the governor’s proposal to include $1 million for the creation of a memorial in our Senate district to memorialize the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. This action speaks to a deeper pattern of intolerance for L.G.B.T. issues by Senate Republicans. In response, I introduced an amendment to reinstate this funding, which ended up being blocked.

Tax Break for Developers: The budget reinstates the 421-a real estate tax-abatement program, which will cost New York City taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, without so much as a public hearing. I spoke on the floor about my concerns with this program and how decoupling its renewal from renewal of the rent laws could spell trouble for tenants.

Delay of Diesel Clean-up: I’m disappointed at the Senate’s continued delay of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), which would require state vehicles to meet clean-air standards.

Failing to Protect Kids in Public Schools: The Senate majority stripped a proposal from the governor’s budget proposal that would include public schools in New York State’s Human Rights Law.

Stripping E-Cigarette Regulations: The governor’s executive budget proposed regulating e-cigarettes the same as traditional cigarettes to improve public health. At the last minute, these regulations were pulled from the budget with no public discussion or explanation given by the Senate.

Clearly, we have more work to do this legislative session. Democracy dies in the dark; our budget process is deeply flawed and deep in the dark. We must do better for the people of New York, and I intend to keep working to create a state government that works for the people, and not in spite of them.

Hoylman is state senator, 27th District (Greenwich Village, East Village, Hudson Square, Chelsea, Stuyvesant Town, Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen, Upper West Side)

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