Did Surplus Cause Spitzer Budget Compromise
One factor that impacted Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s negotiating posture in the budget talks that concluded the Sunday before last with the adoption of a practically on-time agreed upon spending plan, was the governor’s insistence that the Legislature meet the April 1 Constitutional deadline for budget adoption that had been missed for 18 of the last 20 years.
The man who feels compelled to make a deal is in a weaker position than his adversary who is willing to wait, both in cards and in politics. The poker players of Albany know that. Speaker Silver has the reputation of showing his cards late in the game, but since the proceedings were conducted in sessions evocative of the selection of Pope, we do not know who led, passed, bluffed or called. They’re all good buddies, so they worked it out. For the time being, the steamroller was left in the garage, without intensifying adjectives.
Some people believe that Gov. Spitzer should have defied the Legislature, challenging them to do their worst, veto the engorged budget they would have adopted, and try to prevent an over-ride by an alliance with the Senate Democrats, who appear to be his truest friends in Albany apart from the people he has appointed. If his vetoes were over-ridden by Bruno, Silver and their loyal legions, he could distance himself from the bloated budget, and argue the case for the reduction of expenditures and the public debt. Gov. Pataki’s first budget, in 1995, was far leaner than the Spitzer budget, but times were worse then.
The governor chose instead to lead, to participate in the budget process, and to work with both houses to reach agreement. This enables the Legislature to proceed to other matters, if its leaders are willing to let that happen. Normally they sit on everything until the session is about to adjourn, then pass what they like in the dead of night, accompanied by messages of necessity which waive the three-day period during which bills are supposed to age on members’ desks.
This provision also affords legislators the opportunity to read the bills they will vote for.
By the budget agreement, a drawn-out struggle has been averted. We have also avoided the unlikely possibility of the state having no budget adopted.
WHY was Gov. Spitzer anxious to reach a budget agreement by April 1?
The Sun’s Jacob Gershman suggested the: STATE SURPLUS PLAYED BIG ROLE IN BUDGET TALKS.
What he meant is that since New York State’s elected officials like to spend every cent they can lay their hands on, if the lobbyists and interest groups (hospitals, unions, the education complex) were fully aware how much more tax money they could find in the state’s piggy bank, they would have pressed even more vigorously for a larger budget than the one that was approved.
In New York, the $121 billion budget is salted down with $170 million worth of pork. At this time information as to which piggy put what pork in the pricey package is a State secret, although we understand that disclosure may be on the way. As of today, professional researchers for a top civic group could only find $101 million in pork, the remaining $69 million of fat was so marbled into the budget that it was undetectable.
One thing you should know about political pork is that there are worthwhile projects which are blended in with the sleazy scams and sinecures.
Although receiving pork is unlikely to result in the dire consequences, the recipient still incurs a debt to the politician which may be repaid on Primary or Election Day, by gifts of money or services.
There is another aspect of the pork problem: Once a state budget is adopted, which presumably treats everyone in a similar situation in a similar way, with benefits coming as a matter of law and not personal whim, why should Little League A or Fire Company B receive substantial additional funds because of the clout of a local senator or assemblymember? Why should legitimate civilian groups incur obligations to individual incumbents? To those whose organizations are not riding the gravy train, the network of subsidies for a privileged few seems unjust. In fact, it is.
We have not considered those delectable cases where the legislators who provide the pork eat it themselves. The creation of fictional organizations that exist only on paper, the accompanying no-show or seldom-show jobs for girlfriends, relatives and good buddies of the elected official who bill the “organization” and consequently the State for “consultant services” that might even be performed in the home of an elected official, there being no need to waste money renting office space for so gifted a rainmaker to use to secure clients. Unless, of course, there is a building in which someone who knows someone has an interest.
This area is ripe for investigation by Attorney General Cuomo and his new public integrity section, as long as he does not interfere with the United States Attorneys who are probing some of the same or similar situations.