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Budget Theater

June 8, 2010

Was passage of the most recent budget extender really a victory for Governor Paterson? It did include several hundred million dollars in health care cuts previously sought by the governor, and it does lessen the financial gap facing the state. That said, these particular spending cuts appear to have been ok’d by lawmakers. If so, this isn’t much of a win for the governor. A real victory would be having lawmakers go along with something they didn’t  agree with, like, say, deeper school aid cuts or additional taxes, which, according to their polling, would be disastrous for their reelection bids in the fall.   

The governor says he may take “bolder action” next week if the budget isn’t coming together. If so, we may have a real test of this new approach.   

What’s interesting about this situation is that it hasn’t happened before. None of the old-timers we consulted today can recall a similar situation. They say that budgets ultimately must be the product of compromise between lawmakers and the governor, and that sometimes the compromise is a long time in the making, but it always happens in the end. That’s because no one party, not the governor or either house, can force the other to do something it doesn’t want to do. (If only Spitzer understood this…) 

It’s hard to imagine “budget cuts by extender” being more than a temporary and isolated phenomenon. Yes, it gets part of the job done, but doing things piecemeal would appear to multiply the problems for lawmakers. In this regard, there’s something to be said for just loading all the bad news into one “big ugly” and getting it done. That way lawmakers can go home and say – “It was a bad year. We had no choice but to cut, and everyone took a hit.” 

Word from the Capitol is that lawmakers, now in their nine week without a budget and a paycheck, are finally serious about resolving budget negotiations.  Supposedly, there is some bitter arguing over the outstanding issues, but that is often the precursor to agreement and/or exhausted concession, either of which would be fine at this point.

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