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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Two for two on time, now one early?"
ALBANY, Feb. 4 -- For years and years prior to 2011, the absolute No. 1 shining symbol of Albany dysfunction was the failure of the governor and the Legislature to enact a state budget on time or before the start of New York’s new fiscal year every April 1. Some of you might recall that before 2005 the state went 20 consecutive years – two decades straight – without adopting the budget on time.
The late state budget and all of the political theater that accompanied the process during those years was held up by critics, and rightly so, as Exhibit A for why the public should have no faith whatsoever in New York government. For all intents and purposes, if the budget was late by a few days or even a few weeks, the direct impact was minimal if there was any impact at all. State obligations continued to be met and the world kept turning. But it looked bad when the state couldn’t get its own act together while at the same time, for example, requiring taxpayers to pay their taxes on time – or face a penalty.
Sometimes, however, the budget wasn’t adopted until months after April 1. In 2004, for instance, it wasn’t in place until August 11. Once things get that out of hand it has a significant and negative impact on school districts, not-for-profits, transportation contractors and so many others who depend on the predictable and steady flow of state aid. In short, late budgets trounced the overall confidence and integrity of all of New York government.
Since 2011, we’ve seen the state budget adoption process carried out like it should be: on time, with restraint on state spending and taxing, including some Medicaid and other fiscally responsible reforms, and largely absent of the rancor that lateness produces. This year, though, we’re aiming for the earliest budget adoption since 1983 and one of the earliest in generations. Legislative leaders have just announced a schedule intended to produce the final 2013-14 state budget by Thursday, March 21 – 10 days before April 1.
Between now and then, roughly six weeks from today, there’s a ton of work to get done. The Senate has already established in-house subcommittees to closely examine various portions of the governor’s proposal. I’m serving on the subcommittee focused on taxes and economic development and from there will be renewing the push for the Senate to get behind key proposals to strengthen this state’s business climate and keep everyone focused on the Upstate economy (emphasizing our manufacturers and small businesses). In early March, each house of the Legislature adopts its respective budget resolution and then we’ll immediately convene a public, joint conference committee process to settle differences and hammer out final agreements.
Last week, the fiscal committees began a series of public budget hearings that will continue throughout the next two weeks. Why pay attention to what’s unfolding on a daily basis? Following are some of the early hints coming out of last week’s hearings – most of which are not widely reported, if they’re reported at all -- that could have important local impact:
-- testimony from the head of the state’s County Highway Superintendents Association stressed that the largest source of funding for local roads and bridges, the Consolidated Highway Improvement Programs (commonly known as CHIPS), remains frozen at 2008 levels. Strikingly, the local highway superintendents contend that while the current state budget included $1 billion for the NY Works infrastructure improvement initiative, billed by the Cuomo administration as New York’s largest-ever infrastructure enhancement effort, not a penny of the billion went to local roads and bridges. Senate leaders – and I’m fully on board – responded that it’s our intention this year to unfreeze CHIPS or at least secure some additional state aid dedicated to local roads and bridges which, after all, represent key economic lifelines for Upstate communities;
-- on the elementary and secondary education front, you might remember last year that a bipartisan coalition of Upstate legislators called for a more equitable and fair distribution of state education aid to low-wealth, rural, high-need districts. It led to the current budget reallocating $200 million to achieve this goal so that, overall, high-need districts statewide received 71% of last year’s increased aid. A similar effort will be made for the upcoming new state budget; and
-- under questioning, the state health commissioner made clear the Cuomo administration’s willingness to explore the development of a more extensive statewide “telemedicine/telehealth network.” One ongoing focus of the joint, bipartisan Rural Resources Commission on which I serve has been the development of this network. We see it as a potentially groundbreaking achievement for rural health care. As New York keeps expanding broadband capabilities into currently underserved regions, an accompanying emphasis should be a more integrated, statewide telemedicine system. In fact, the development of modern telemedicine capabilities is highlighted by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council’s blueprint. In its final report the council noted that telemedicine-based initiatives “will reduce hospitalizations, create Medicare and Medicaid savings, eliminate transportation issues and disintegration of services for elderly and low-income populations” and provide cost-effective alternatives and reduced health care costs for rural residents.
So while the state budget adoption process can be a drawn-out, mundane affair, every step of the way produces information that points to where the final state budget’s headed on key programs and services impacting lives and communities here at home.
Remember that you can watch each of the fiscal committee hearings – and, in March, the joint conference committees -- as they’re taking place through the Senate’s live streaming website at: http://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/live.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869