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EDITORIAL: Budget too vital to rush through and pass in secret

EDITORIAL: Budget too vital to rush through and pass in secret

Major spending cuts will be needed to offset revenue reductions, deficit

This year’s budget may be the most important spending plan the state has ever passed.

In the wake of the coronavirus, revenue from the projected $175 billion budget could be off by billions of dollars due to a decline in sales tax revenue from the shutdown of the business economy, loss of income tax revenue due to delayed tax payments, the loss in revenues from the casinos and other sources of money that normally help balance the budget. 

Even before the outbreak, the state already faced a budget deficit of about $6.5 billion.

On top of the revenue losses, the state faces as-yet uncalculated expenses for medical services, constructing facilities to handle new Covid-19 cases, equipment and other outbreak-related costs.

There are few ways to generate new income to offset the additional expenses and the loss of revenue beyond an infusion of federal cash, an amount that might not be known for weeks.

That means the budget will contain major freezes and cuts. Public employees could see their wages frozen or their jobs furloughed. School districts could see significant cuts in aid from the projected figures released earlier this year.

More state costs could be passed on to local governments.

Many pledges for funding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo made in January will be gone in the final spending plan.

Like the impact of the coronavirus on our lives, with the state budget, it’s a whole new world.

Yet the governor and legislative leaders appear intent on passing a new budget when it’s due on April 1, about a week from now.

And the governor has indicated he might try to include in the budget bill changes to the state’s bail reform law and perhaps even legalization of recreational marijuana. He shouldn’t.

This budget is no place to shove through hastily prepared and inadequately vetted legislation. Save it until later, when it can be properly reviewed and debated.

We’re not sure exactly how they’re going to do all this in a week, especially with the Legislature operating in its own version of social distancing and with the governor personally managing one of the world’s largest responses to this current health emergency.

The task really seems impossible.

But if they’re going to do it, they can’t take shortcuts when it comes to public presentation and debate.

Because of the tremendous potential this budget has to alter our lives this year and for years to come, the public needs to be informed about what’s in it and what impact it will have. 

Citizens and local governments will need time to question the provisions, to voice their objections and to propose alternatives.

Let’s have none of the usual nonsense of the budget being negotiated in secret among legislative leaders. No passing the final document at 3 a.m. and having the capitol reporters ladle out the details over the following weeks.

If they’re going to do this budget, lawmakers have to be transparent and give the citizens and our elected state representatives ample opportunity to review and debate it.

Don’t wait for them to ram this through.

Call or email your local legislators now and demand a full and open budget process.

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