By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine
Last week, we wrapped up the budget at last. By no stretch can I or any lawmaker say that this budget is perfect, but in these difficult times, it represents considerable progress from where we were on April 1.
The budget keeps my commitment to the people of Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties to protect our interests, reject the onerous taxes proposed by the governor and avoid the traps of borrowing proposals entertained by the Assembly. In the end, we passed a budget that not only rejected the most dangerous of tax increases, but made real and substantial cuts to control our stateâ€™s spending.
Absent from the budget is the soda tax that threatened to double the price of a two liter of soda. Missing is the gross receipts tax that would have increased the cost of healthcare. Gone are the proposed taxes on energy production. All of these taxes threatened jobs in Central and Northern New York.
This budget restored funding that brings a return on investment for our local communities, be it parks and historic sites or agricultural programs benefitting the stateâ€™s number one industry. It protects jobs, especially those at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, implements new programming to create new ones, and protects the dedicated funds for snowmobile trails paid by snowmobilers to boost our winter tourism.
I am not happy with the fact that this process took this long. It points to the need for reform and change in the budget process. The very changes which had been rejected for decades are now gaining momentum. To reform this process, we need an independent budget office, performance based budgeting to make our stateâ€™s departments and bureaucracies accountable, and strong consideration of many more measures to protect taxpayer dollars.
As we saw in the findings of the bipartisan Task Force on Government Efficiency reports, we must be vigilant in finding ways to save money by seeking out the waste and making our state more efficient. Iâ€™m proud to serve on this task force and it is truly eye opening to see the waste in our bureaucratic system. It is critical that we look to consolidate our agencies and authorities and trim administrative costs while protecting the people who directly provide the services we depend on.
In addition to closing down the budget process, we also sent a strong message once again to our colleagues in the Assembly that we will not sit idly by while the people of this state clamor for property tax relief. For the third time in about two years, I voted for a property tax cap, which is the first step toward comprehensive relief that must also include mandate relief and a circuit breaker, along with a change in the aid formula to address the needs of low wealth school districts upstate.
Moving forward, we must continue to look for efficiencies and ways to reduce spending so that the taxpayers of this state can find the relief that is long overdue.