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Budget again falls short

Budget again falls short

Failure in both process and content

An oft-repeated adage defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Yet Tiger Woods hits hundreds of golf balls a day in order to bring his score down. And Stephen King writes 2,000 words every day to stay sharp.

More accurately, insanity is doing the same thing poorly over and over and expecting better results.

Which brings us to the New York state budget. The new $137.9 billion spending plan was approved late Monday night with little debate and very little advance public disclosure of its terms. The outcome was no less successful than past endeavors that have driven New York to become one of the highest taxed, least business-friendly states in the nation.

The budget, which supporters claim is fiscally conservative, actually raises state spending by about $3 billion, without addressing the impact of state mandates for Medicaid, pensions and other programs that drive up taxes and allow New York to retain its dubious titles.

Are there good things in the state budget? Sure there are. Money for the environment, tax credits for movie productions, business tax credits, tax-free zones around colleges, incentives for shared services, etc. Any pinata that big is bound to have a few Snickers bars in it.

For instance, the new budget increases state aid to school districts by 5.3 percent. Schenectady schools will receive almost $6 million more in aid in 2014-15 than last year, joining most local districts in seeing modest increases.

But the budget continues the Gap Elimination Adjustment that has transferred billions of dollars from school districts to the state during the past four years. If schools are suffering, then putting money in one pocket while taking it out of another won't help.

The budget also includes $340 million to kick-start pre-kindergarten programs. Every discretionary state dollar could be used for other more pressing needs such as infrastructure repair, offsetting government employee retirement costs or reducing local taxes. All the tax caps and shifts in tax burdens and other fiscal shell games in this budget can't hide the fact that mandated services and programs still have to be paid for by somebody.

But content isn't the only issue with this budget. As with sausage-making and determining a national college football champion, a big part of the problem is the process itself. As it has been for decades, the budget is negotiated in secret by the governor and legislative leaders and put to a hurried vote by lawmakers who've barely been given time to read the bills. An open negotiation process, followed by a brief public review period, would allow citizens the opportunity to assess the compromises and form educated opinions to share with their representatives.

If New York is ever to truly improve its business and tax climate, it will have to substantially reduce its budget and reform the process that leads to its creation.

Until then, expect the insanity to continue.

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