End of Extraordinary Session Yields Positive Results, 2010-11 Will Require More Tough Choices

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

After four weeks of negotiations, last week we passed a package of deficit reduction measures that close the gap in our 2009-10 Enacted State Budget by close to $3 billion. We reached this goal with a plan that protects jobs, rejects tax and fee increases, and shields property taxpayers and our school children from the impact of mid-year cuts.

Best of all, this plan was reached with the input of members on both sides of the aisle and it passed nearly unanimously with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats alike. It was a difficult process that certainly took longer than we wanted it to, but as chairman of the Senate Upstate Caucus, my colleagues and I stood strong in opposition to proposed cuts that would have hit our districts disproportionately compared to New York City and would have undercut the school district budgets all of us cast ballots for earlier this year.

Members of both parties stood shoulder to shoulder on this and in the end we passed a deficit reduction plan that makes careful and deliberate cuts to the state budget, about half of which will be recurring cuts that provide savings into future budgets. We eliminated proposals to increase taxes and restored funding to nursing homes and hospitals, while pushing back on cuts that would have reduced federal revenue for the state.

In addition, we approved other important measures to protect taxpayers. Pension reform legislation, which passed 61-1, will create a fifth tier to the state retirement system for new employees, saving the state, school districts and local governments an estimated $48.5 billion over the next 30 years. We passed legislation that would help the state avoid costly agreements with private contractors for information technology jobs, and acted with a unanimous vote to fundamentally change the way the state’s more than 1,000 authorities operate.

There is no way of knowing just how much reforming these authorities will save taxpayers, but it’s clear that it will save us money by putting long overdue checks on what some have called our state’s “shadow government.” A report from 2008 showed that the taxpayers pay $5 billion annually on debt accrued by these authorities without any oversight. This new law places stringent public disclosure and reporting requirements on these authorities, including the New York Power Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Still, for all of these important changes, cuts and savings, there is more we must do to reform the way New York State operates and cut spending to balance our budget for 2010-11. This deficit reduction plan is the just beginning of the difficult decisions we need to make. This plan seals a significant portion of our state’s budget gap this year, but it does not change the fact that we will have to make more systemic cuts and more tough choices next year.