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Originally Published: April 4, 2009

A regrettably closed-door process turned the December Doomsday Executive Budget proposal into a “Happy Days are Here Again” budget in April

Statement By Dick Dadey, Executive Director

This year’s state budget adoption process reached new lows of back-room politicking and closed-door negotiating, and was not only irresponsible, but more importantly an insult to New Yorkers.

The public’s interest in clean and open government was again trumped by our state political leaders’ well-honed tactics of making difficult political decisions without public scrutiny or rank-and-file legislators’ participation in deliberating on such an important responsibility of state government. As a result, the budget contained significant taxing and spending measures which were heavily influenced by narrow special interests – who do not answer to the public at large – while legislators’ constituents were left without details about why or how these decisions were made. Adhering to a transparent and deliberative process would reduce the power of special interests, and ensure that important decisions are handled in the light of open discussion, spirited debate, and public evaluation.

The state legislature adopted a budget of over $131 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year – which represents an increase of nearly 9% over last year’s budget – via a process which flew in the face of agreements among state leadership which promised to reform the state budget process, including a commitment to hold conference committee meetings in public, as well as the 2007 law designed to provide for a more transparent process. Citizens Union questions whether the state can afford such significant increases in its spending when the state was only several months ago projecting such significant deficits and losses in revenue. Regardless of whether the state truly can afford this, we question how New Yorkers can be asked to support this budget – the most significant product of state government – when it was developed entirely behind closed doors and without any public input on the final bill.

Citizens Union is particularly disappointed that many Senators, who pledged they would do things differently if they were in power, have failed to create a more transparent and participatory budget adoption process. Instead, the new leadership took part in the most secretive budget decision-making in recent memory, failing to consider the budget in either a bipartisan or transparent manner.

Governor David Paterson started off on the right foot in December by issuing his Executive Budget over a month earlier than required, which gave the legislature ample time to consider and pass the state budget. More time, unfortunately, did not result in greater openness in its consideration. For such significant tax increases and spending decisions to have been made without public hearings on the final budget bill and without conference committee meetings – during which elected officials could have challenged one another as they discussed options and debated the priorities – is a serious betrayal of the public trust.

Citizens Union believes that our State leaders have jeopardized their credibility and that of the State in moving from the December doomsday budget proposal into a “happy days are here again” final budget in April, all without needed input from the public and rank-and-file legislators.

This budget adoption process continues a terrible precedent, and is arguably the worst in recent memory. Open and responsible government is less evident than at any time in our recent past, and transparency was again sacrificed for political expediency.

In making these criticisms, Citizens Union renews it call for increased transparency, integrity and efficiency in the budgeting process. We urge the State to abide by the principles laid out in Citizens Union’s issue brief and position statement on State Budget Reform that was released in December 2008 prior to the Governor’s release of his Executive Budget.

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