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EDITORIAL: This was no way to pass a budget

EDITORIAL: This was no way to pass a budget

Usual late-night shenanigans don't work in a crisis

If you stay up late enough and follow state Capitol news on Twitter, you learn exactly how bad New York’s process for passing a budget is.

Votes posted at 2 or 3 in the morning.

Legislators being handed thousands of pages of budget bills in the middle of the night, and then being given only an hour or two to read through them. 

Bleary-eyed reporters running on caffeine and adrenaline sorting through mountains of legislation at dawn to figure out which proposals got through and which ones didn’t make the cut.

Whatever public debates lawmakers had on legislation were quickly followed by hasty votes taken long after most people had nodded off while binge-watching “Tiger King.”

Under normal circumstances, passing the budget this way defies logic.

But the coronavirus outbreak is having unprecedented and dramatic effects on state finances.

Authorizing the expenditure of $177 billion in taxpayer money would be challenging enough, without folding in unrelated legislation such as the bail reform amendments.

And they did it under the pressure of the April 1 budget deadline; the uncertainty of state finances and the state economy; pressure from various constituencies to retain spending levels for schools, health care and local government services; and without input from the public or rank-and-file lawmakers.

Most of us wouldn’t pick out a dog from the animal shelter without more debate and discussion.

Yet rather than doing the bare minimum just to ensure that state government continued to function and employees continued to get paid, then taking the time to consider what needed to be done, they forged blindly into the night.

What they ended up with is what Oscar Madison once called “goop melange,” a concoction of unrelated bills and spending that will make some people happy, some people miserable and some relieved, with the hard decisions on necessary spending cuts put off until sometime down the road.

They included unnecessary new spending items like $100 million or more for public financing of political campaigns.

They failed to cut state spending on education, even though New York spends more on education than any other state and even though tough decisions on school spending will need to be made sometime soon.

To help make the numbers work, they authorized billions in borrowing. And they followed through on making cuts to Medicaid even as the state serves as the epicenter for the coronavirus epidemic.

These chaotic circumstances required that lawmakers act with careful consideration and debate, not with more chaos, more secrecy, more haste and more uncertainty.

What happened last week is the old way of doing business.

But these are not the old times. And this was no way to pass a budget.

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