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Legislature Returns to Finish Budget, Maybe. Aubertine: ‘A Good Budget Late Beats A Bad Budget On Time’

One of the latest state budgets in New York history is likely to win final approval this week, according to State Senator Darrel Aubertine.

“It’s been frustrating for everyone, but I do think in the end we end up with a budget that’s much better than the budget that was originally proposed,” Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent) said Monday, before heading to Albany for Tuesday’s special session.

The Assembly finished its budget work weeks ago. The Senate has been a different place, however. Democrats hold a bare majority, 32-28. Small groups of Senators have been able to hold up pieces of the budget because their votes would deny Democrats a majority vote. That, and what observers see as weak leadership among Senate Democrats, has slowed progress on the budget.

For instance, the SUNY Empowerment Act, a key initiative of Governor David Paterson, has been stalled in the Senate by a couple of Senators. A downstate Senator says he won’t vote for a budget that includes the bill, which would give each SUNY college the ability to set its own tuition. A Buffalo-area Senator says he won’t vote for a budget unless the bill is part of it.

Aubertine believes a compromise on the issue has been reached.

The time also allowed groups of Senators to fight for regional issues. Aubertine points to the successful effort to restore funds to New York State parks, including Fort Ontario, which resulted from a groundswell of public opposition. “The message was clear,” Aubertine said. “Don’t vote on a budget that closes Fort Ontario.”

He was also able to win the fight to keep open Ogdensburg Correctional Facility in his district. Aubertine noted that the time allowed them to win other budget battles, such as preventing the Governor from sweeping money into the general budget from the account to maintain snowmobile trails, killing the so-called soda tax, and preventing a gross receipts tax on hospitals.

“All those issues are not going to be in this year’s budget because we did go back to the table time and time again to make sure that as we crafted a budget to make sure that things that were not advantageous to our part of the state were not in it,” he said.

Aubertine says he has not been confronted by citizens angry over the lack of a budget, but says he knows people are disappointed.

Could they have passed a budget on time? Of course, he says, but adds, “I think people have been misled that a budget that’s late is automatically worse than a budget that’s on time. I don’t think that. I think a good budget late is better than a bad budget on time.”