It’s fitting that New York’s fiscal year starts April 1, since the annual state budget so often has elements that sound like a bad joke.
For example, did you hear the one about the tax break for luxury yachts?
Or the $400 million “transformative fund” for Long Island?
Or the hundreds of millions of dollars in re-appropriated pork barrel “member items” sought by Assembly Democrats?
Or the unprecedented $5.4 billion cash windfall that, despite urgent transportation and municipal infrastructure needs, was divvied up by Governor Cuomo among a dozen lower-priority initiatives such as $50 million for farm preservation to $1.5 billion for an “upstate revitalization” competition that immediately drew comparison to the Hunger Games?
Or the new commission that will guarantee periodic pay increases for the the governor, the Legislature and other state officials—in perpetuity?
Or the “ethics” provisions, supposedly designed to boost transparency, that were basically secret until a few hours before they were voted on?
Or the “messages of necessity” issued by the governor to allow the Legislature to ram through budget bills practically no one had read in order to deliver an “on-time” budget that, in the end, wasn’t actually on time?
Seriously, there’s no automatic cure for stuff like this. A good deal of it could be chalked up to the inevitable messiness of democracy (or sausage-making).
But there is at least one reform that could give New York a more open, more deliberative budget process. The Empire State should adopt a fiscal year that begins July 1, like those of 46 other states.
Ten weeks (or just eight, after a gubernatorial election) is not enough time to sufficiently air out something as big and complex as the New York State budget.
To be sure, extending the budget-making process by three months also would allow more time for high-pressure lobbying by various special interest groups. One way to deal with that would be to also emulate the 19 states that have biennial budgets, which would mean going through the process only half as often.
Whether it’s done annually or every other year, allowing more time for the Legislature’s consideration of the state budget certainly wouldn’t guarantee better results.
On the other hand, it’s unlikely to make them much worse.
And at the very least, it would take away an excuse for lame jokes.
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