By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)
A four-week special session came to a frustrating close this week after Albany failed to pass a Deficit Reduction Plan that structurally solved any of the state’s financial troubles. It’s true that the legislature, after majority-party political infighting that wasted time and taxpayer dollars, managed to close a substantial portion of the budget gap. However, this deficit reduction plan fell well short of any meaningful reform. Therefore, the majorities ensured that problems we’re facing today will continue to carryover next year and into the future.
For one thing, the deficit reduction plan that passed takes money from authorities to cover the state’s cash flow problems. For example, the Battery Park City Authority, a housing authority which collects rent in New York City, was authorized to transfer $200 million from its budget into the general fund. While that decision ensures cash to help close the budget gap, it’s an example of prolonging the inevitable. It’s a one-shot deal and it falls short of creating a new policy that helps the state manage its long-term fiscal well-being. These same budget gaps are certain to resurface next year and rather than reduce state spending during this special session, we’ve delayed a solution once again.
Another component of the budget that creates problems down the line is the solution reached pertaining to school aid. Essentially, they stole Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding intended for next year to help close this year’s budget gap. Subsequently, in the 2010-11 budget, state school aid will be reduced by $391 million. Aid to municipalities was slashed as well: Aid to major cities which operate on a non-calendar budget year was cut by $32 million; and grants intended to consolidate local government were reduced by $500,000. These changes, particularly the reduction in local aid, places the state’s financial mismanagement on the local taxpayer’s back. When districts realize a shortage in state aid, either cuts will have to be made or taxes will increase.
Perhaps most frustrating in the last few weeks in Albany was the lack of acknowledgement or consideration for alternatives. The Governor spoke publicly on several occasions saying no one was providing alternative solutions. This was false. I proposed, along with my colleagues, alternatives to slashing school and municipal aid several weeks ago. If we would have:
- Cut contract balances by 5%, we could have saved roughly $300 million. The state spends roughly $129 billion on contracts which range from subscriptions to temp agency services. This should be an obvious source to look for savings, especially when you consider the budget gap was $3.2 billion.
- Reduced the amount of money set aside to purchase private lands, we could have saved $30 million.
- Reviewing legislative add-ons and agency efficiencies. Some efforts continue to be duplicative. For example, the Office of Real Property Services could merge with the State Tax department to make each agency run more efficiently.
- Created additional administrative savings.
- Continued to refinance bonds and debt, the state could have budgeted for an additional $24 million in savings.
I voted against this deficit reduction plan. It was my hope that a more transparent and fair consensus could have been agreed upon during the special session. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Actions taken last week by the Majority in both houses will result in the state’s financial woes being pushed to its local tax base. I will continue to sponsor legislation that reforms the budget and creates long-term solutions so that future generations will not have to shoulder the mismanagement of state dollars tomorrow.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.