Editorial: State budget failure starts to hit home

School districts, local taxpayers will feel effects of impasse
State Capitol Building in Albany.
State Capitol Building in Albany.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

And now, as we enter our fifth day without a state budget in place, the pain is starting to be felt beyond the Capitol corridors.

To most New Yorkers, the rush to complete a budget by the April 1 deadline is a yawner. But in reality, it’s not just overtired reporters and frustrated rank-and-file lawmakers who are affected by the failure of the governor and legislative leaders to agree on a deal.

It’s local school officials who are among those starting to feel the pinch.

District officials all around New York need to know very soon how much aid they’re getting from the state for the next school year so they can prioritize spending and make critical budgeting decisions that affect everything from how many teachers they employ to how many books they order.

The amount of state aid not only affects what they can afford, but how much in property taxes they’ll have to collect from taxpayers to pay for it all.

In that way, the budget delay isn’t just hurting those closest to the process, but every property owner in the state. You, me, our neighbors, local businesses, everybody.

Like the state budget deadline that state lawmakers blew past on Saturday, there’s a clock ticking on school budget spending. Districts have to have real numbers to present to voters in public hearings by April 24 and then at the annual school budget vote on May 16.

Without those figures, all they can give voters is an educated guess. And voters shouldn’t be asked to decide on something as important as their children’s education and their taxes when they don’t know exactly how much they’ll have to pay or exactly how and where their money is being spent.

If lawmakers and the governor had any sense of responsibility, they would reach agreement on school aid, before they complete the other budget bills, and release the figures so districts could complete their budgets.

But because everything in the state budget is negotiable right up until the end, they probably won’t do that — even if they’ve already agreed upon the state aid numbers.

Right now, it looks like this mess could drag on a while.

The Assembly called it a day shortly before Happy Hour on Tuesday. The Senate at least planned to hang around for dinner. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is apparently in no rush, either.

He spent part of Tuesday afternoon checking out the barge accident in Catskill, where he said the budget could wait until after Easter.

That would leave school districts just a month before the May budget vote to finalize their spending priorities, set tax rates and present their spending plans to voters.

“There is no obligation to get (the budget) done by Easter — the obligation was to get the budget done by April 1 and they failed,” Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. “If they were worried about the school districts, they would have gotten it done by April 1.”

He sure showed them. Or us. Or someone.

There is something you can do about this. Call or email the governor’s office, your local legislators and legislative leaders and demand they pass the budget.

It is, after all, their job.

But they’re rapidly making it our problem.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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