New York State Budget Deadline Approaches


nys-capitolHigher taxes for the wealthy, a watered-down bottle deposit bill, cuts to anti-smoking campaigns and what critics call the “drug dealer protection act” are all part of the secretive state budget being worked out now.
Agreed-upon elements of the budget bill are to be released publicly over the weekend, with voting Monday and Tuesday. That would get the budget passed on time but bloated beyond the current $120 billion plan.“We’re making substantial progress. We’ve narrowed a lot of the issues,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Thursday evening. Both the Senate and Assembly Democratic majority conferences were to discuss them Thursday night and today, he said.

The big ugly, as the budget has come to be called, may also include a deal to avoid big fare hikes and cuts in transit service in New York City, a plan the MTA board adopted Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Democratic Gov. David Paterson met privately with Silver on Thursday. They discussed an alternative to the MTA’s plan that could infuse the debt-riddled public authority with cash.

“We’ll see if we can’t provide the necessary revenues that will seriously roll back the actions of the MTA board,” Silver said.

But the few who are behind closed doors insist no deal is final. In the meantime, pieces are swirling.

– The “bigger, better bottle bill” has fizzled from expanding bottle deposits to all non-carbonated drinks to just adding deposits for bottled water, but even that moneymaker is in doubt.

– Health advocates say they fear losing $16 million from the state’s annual $85.5 million for tobacco prevention programs aimed at kids.

– An increase in the top income tax rate is considered essential to balance increased spending in school aid and other areas. The question is how much to raise the rate and for whom. Most think it will apply to New Yorkers making $500,000 or more, but it could still dip down to families making $250,000. Silver said reports of a tentative agreement for an income tax surcharge on people earning more than $300,000 a year are inaccurate.

– Another crack at the Rockefeller-era drug laws is being considered, following the 2004 law that was intended to shorten some long mandatory sentences for dealers and users. The Democrats’ proposal would repeal many of the remaining mandatory minimum sentences. It could also give judges the power to send first-timers accused of nonviolent crimes to drug treatment facilities instead of prison. It would also shorten sentences for some already in prison.

“It’s the drug dealer protection act,” said Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican.

Republican senators said the bill, according to a draft they were told about, could send thousands of violent drug dealers back to neighborhoods and divert many drug dealers to rehab if they could successfully argue they were abused growing up.

“People need to look hard and long at this bill,” warned Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright.

But that won’t happen.

The budget during a fiscal crisis, with a $16 billion projected deficit, is being negotiated privately by the governor, Senate leader and Assembly Speaker, all Democrats.

Billionaire businessman Tom Golisano was in Albany Thursday to back up his criticism with his wallet. He promised to bankroll any New York legislator who bucks legislative leaders and rejects the budget.

He says only a few independent Democrats need to stand with Republicans to break the 32-30 Democratic majority in the Senate.

Golisano says even deadlock and delay would be better than what he sees as a disastrous big-spending, high-tax plan set for passage by April 1.

Golisano founded the Rochester payroll company Paychex. He failed in previous independent runs for governor.

“Everything the Legislature has done in the last 20 years is to promote the special interests,” he told reporters. “It’s never been more obvious.”

{Elisha Newscenter/AP}


  1. A billionaire offering money in return for a vote that affects him? Isn’t this called bribery and corruption? Tammany Hall is reincarnated?

    If I were the New York State Attorney General I would be getting the paperwork done to put this guy away. “Bankrolling” by the rich is what got us into the situation we’ve got with Wall Street. It’s also another cause of “failed democracies” around the world.

    And it’s definitely very, very bad for democracy here at home. Why should my opinion be less worthy of my legislator’s consideration than Golisano’s just because he’s got a billion dollars? Does that give him a billion votes in the next election?

    If this guy thinks he can propose this sort of thing and get away with it, something has gone very, very wrong with our political system.