Cuomo, Legislature failed to meet budget transparency law deadlines

| Politico New York

ALBANY —State officials have not released formal estimates of how much revenue will be available for next year’s spending plan, ignoring a 2007 law that was designed to bring transparency to the budget process.

According to the state’s finance law, revenue and spending estimates were due to be prepared and released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and leaders of the Assembly and Senate before Nov. 5. A public meeting for “jointly reviewing available financial information” was required by Nov. 15.

The Cuomo administration has at times been late in posting some required fiscal reports, but this year there was no meeting at all. More than three weeks after the deadline, only DiNapoli has posted the required estimates.

“The point of the law is to guard against ugly fiscal surprises and minimize delays by forcing the Legislature and governor into the good habit of publicly sharing timely updates on their economic and revenue outlooks early in the budget process,” said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank. “The Legislature should have been complaining about Governor Cuomo’s persistent tardiness in releasing the mid-year update, and the governor should be complaining about the Legislature’s failure to put out their own numbers.

“Instead, we have this apparent tacit agreement by all of them to simply flout a law that was enacted not too many years ago. It’s yet another sign of the persistent dysfunction in Albany,” McMahon said.

Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of the Budget, did not respond to phone and email inquiries about the so-called “Quick Start” process for four days last week. Kerrie Biche, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said members of the chamber’s ruling Democratic conference met last week at the Capitol and “will continue to monitor the data.” Maureen Wren, a spokesman for Republicans who control the state Senate, said the reports were no longer needed because fiscal conditions have improved.

“The Quick Start budget forecasts were used to help get the budget process rolling during a time when late budgets were the norm,” Wren wrote. “Over the last several years we have been successful in passing on-time budgets. Senate fiscal staff continue to meet and have discussions with the Executive to refine our forecasts and analyses. We will release these estimates once they are finalized.”

Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo, a Democrat, has presided over four budgets that were passed before the March 31 deadline. This year, voting in the state Assembly stretched a few hours past the technical midnight deadline, but the spending plan was still effectively adopted on time.

Tammy Gamerman, an analyst with the Citizens Budget Commissioner, a non-partisan, business-backed watchdog, said revenue estimates will fluctuate before most of the budgetary work begins next year. Indeed, a mid-year update to the state’s fiscal planshowed lawmakers have a $350 million surplus and are sitting on a $650 million windfall from penalties levied against financial firms. The latter number has already grown by $150 million as a result of another action this week.

“There are other areas of transparency and reporting that are more important than the quick start process,” Gamerman said.

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