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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"March toward a new state budget"
ALBANY, March 3 -- It’s been a long, hard winter. So the appearance of the word “March” on the calendar helps turn at least a few thoughts toward warmer things, like the first day of spring, baseball’s Opening Day and trout season.
In Albany, however, March is all about the final push toward the enactment of a new state budget by the April 1st start of New York’s new fiscal year. That’s what’s going to dominate the March headlines in state government.
There’ll be plenty of barometers to gauge the contentiousness and timeliness of this new budget. For example, how hard will Governor Cuomo push to include his highly controversial college-for-inmates plan as part of the budget? Can we stop the Cuomo administration plan to shut down Monterey Shock? Will the final budget include our “Jobs for Heroes” program to provide economic assistance to disabled veterans? How about a stronger state commitment to the deteriorating condition of local roads and bridges? How do we make sure that our upstate, small city and rural school districts are treated equitably and fairly? Is this going to be the year that New York State truly cuts taxes? What are we going to do for the upstate economy? Mandate relief?
I’m currently serving as a member on Senate budget subcommittees examining the Taxes/Economic Development and Mental Hygiene sections of the upcoming fiscal plan. You can bet I’ll keep pushing for tax relief that I believe can help revitalize our upstate manufacturing sector and bring back some of these good jobs for local workers and their families. And you can be sure that I’m keeping a close watch on the future of the state’s mental health system, with one particular goal of continuing to protect the rightful place of the Elmira Psychiatric Center in the delivery of regional mental health programs and services.
So there’ll be a lot to keep an eye on. But, for now, let’s stay focused on the budget adoption process itself, which gets started in a big way this week when the Senate and Assembly budget subcommittees start to finalize respective in-house budget plans and stake out final priorities. That, in turn, sets the stage for legislative action on these separate proposals, which is immediately followed by the start of what’s called the “joint budget conference committee process” that’s largely been a touchstone of New York’s yearly budget-making since the Budget Reform Act of 2007.
I don’t want to overstate the value of conference committees, but I do believe they remain a worthwhile fixture of the process. We’re better off with them than without them. This year’s joint conference committees will likely be underway at the same time that the news media and other organizations across the country celebrate “Sunshine Week,” beginning on March 16th, a nationally recognized initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information (read more about it at www.sunshineweek.org). The conference committee process is consistent with the goal of heightening the public’s understanding and awareness of budget and public finance-related matters.
Each bipartisan conference committee includes 10 senators and assembly members and meets in public to examine specific portions of the budget – education, local assistance, health and human services, public protection, taxes and job creation, and several others. The agreements reached by these committees are followed by final budget negotiations to produce a new budget by the beginning of the new fiscal year on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Few would say it’s the be-all and end-all of successful state budgeting, but conference committees do facilitate openness and public scrutiny. They can and do bring to light outstanding controversies and serve to pinpoint the differences that can make or break a final budget. And the process can serve up debates that were often kept behind closed doors in the past. Many of these debates are worth watching and you can view them, daily, through the following Senate website: http://www.nysenate.gov/live_today.
Just recall that during a 20-year period from 1984 to 2004, when there was no consistent use of conference committees, not a single New York state budget was adopted on time. Not one. One culprit for this dysfunction was the lack of public scrutiny, and it helped facilitate a long line of unsustainable tax-and-spend state budgets. Conference committees help ensure a process that’s more accountable and more devoted to public clarity – something that’s especially important in years like this one when we’re potentially facing so many substantive changes.
And I’m hoping that these committees will again be useful in helping us enact a fourth consecutive on-time state budget by the end of the month.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
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: Gary Whyman, 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 Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869