Editorial: Albany again fails public on budget

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It’s the height of irony that the New York state budget is due each year on April Fool’s Day, because our leaders in Albany long ago cornered the market on foolishness.

Now, in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in decades, the Democrats in charge of the governor’s office and both houses of the state Legislature continue to perpetuate practices and policies that have ill-served New York and its people for so many years.

Here are some of the problems with the budget process, and practices that need to be fixed:

Once again, budget negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, and by just three men, while the rest of the state Legislature twiddles its thumbs. Despite reform passed a few years back with the goal of opening up the process, Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith are flouting that reform. That’s just plain wrong. New York’s budget needs to be an open, public process.

Once again, there is a seemingly insatiable thirst among the legislative majority to impose new taxes. Democrats are pushing for a new tax on what they perceive as the wealthy and for an increase in the state sales tax, which would affect all New Yorkers. The former would merely drive many of Manhattan’s better-off, taxpaying residents to neighboring states such as Connecticut, and the latter would be an added burden on all New Yorkers already struggling in the tough economy. New Yorkers don’t need more taxes; they need a government they can afford.

Once again, New York’s leaders seem unwilling or unable to fulfill their responsibility to collect taxes legally due the state, specifically taxes on sales of cigarettes to non-Indians at Indian-owned businesses. The state has had the legal authority to collect such taxes since the 1990s, but it’s failed to act. This isn’t a new tax — it’s something that must be collected to even the playing field among businesses and to uphold the rule of law in New York state.

New York University’s Brennan Center has called the state’s government the most dysfunctional in the nation. Yet, despite promises year after year to open up the process, make state government more transparent, and more responsibly budget and spend the public’s money, little changes.

What can the public do? Pressure your state legislator to be vocal in party conferences about your needs — no tax increases, a better climate for business, a streamlined state government, less attention paid to special interests. Oh, and far more openness in the process. If three men in a room are determining our state’s future, just why are we paying all those other legislators anyhow?