We Deserve Better; Let’s Pass a Budget Already

We deserve better. We should be in Albany, as I write this column today, trying to hammer out a budget, but the reality is this past week at the State Capitol was an abomination. Because of the lack of respect our leaders have for the law—passing a budget on time—and the lack of true leadership, our communities lost parks, state workers were forced into furloughs, and the Majority staged a “sit-in” at the Governor’s office and played ‘he said, she said’ in the media. As I said, we deserve better.

Thankfully, the federal courts have ruled in the workers’ favor for now; however, the confidence of job security was questioned for more than 100,000 state workers when the legislature voted in favor of furloughs to help pay for budget shortfalls. I voted against this measure in the Assembly. We should not be placing the responsibility the Majority leaders in both the Senate and the Assembly have decided to shrug on the backs of hardworking employees who have families to support. If we’d had a budget in place, the question of furloughs wouldn’t have been put up to vote along with one emergency spending plan bill after another in the first place. What’s more, our leaders in the Assembly passed the furlough measure at the Governor’s behest and then, when questioned by the public and the media on why they voted in favor of the furloughs, said the bill didn’t matter much because it wouldn’t hold up in court. We deserve better.

In other distressing news, last week we learned the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation will close Fort Ontario. Due to lack of a budget, again, we’re seeing our community’s assets and protected lands suffer to be left up to a bleak and uncertain fate. For now, park officials say they will have to close at least 41 parks and 14 historic sites across the state, many of which are in Central and Northern New York. Without a budget, funds are not being appropriated to respective state agencies, leaving those in charge of such agencies to default to the Governor’s planned cuts. The Governor’s plan has not been discussed or debated openly in the Legislature. I’ve talked in the past about closed-door meetings or decisions being made by three men in a room. This year, however, it’s unclear as to whether or not even those meetings are taking place. We deserve better.

My colleagues and I proposed reform measures two weeks ago in the Assembly that would enable rank-and-file members to help determine what gets placed on the Assembly calendar. This was not supported by the majority party. We also tried to have equal and fair treatment for bills submitted—that the index clerk assign a bill number in the order of which they are received. This too was defeated. With simple reform measures, similar to a teacher’s rules in a well-run classroom, we would likely be able to move beyond this impasse. Unfortunately, those in charge do not see things this way. We deserve better.

Still, with this crisis, neither Majority leaders of the Senate and the Assembly have asked rank-and-file members to remain in Albany past Wednesday of any week this session to hold joint conference committee meetings or budget sessions to work out a plan on how to close the $10 billion budget gap. Instead, we’re seeing political infighting among the Majority party and a lack of leadership in the Legislature. We deserve better.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding this or any other state matter, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list, contact me by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us, or by phone at (315) 598-5185.