Democratic View: 2019 budgets and ballots

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Well, it seems that if you give your state legislators incentive in the form of a pay raise, they will easily meet their budget deadline. Following that, of course, minority members will mail out angry missives about how terrible a budget it is.


As with most state budgets, this one satisfied no one completely. As with most recent state budgets, it contained a bucketload of legislative proposals from the governor. A significant and unanticipated dip in revenues made this year’s budget especially challenging.


The legislature fought back against the governor’s proposed cuts to state aid for cities, towns, and villages. This was a bipartisan effort that was critical at a time when the budget also made the property tax cap permanent. Cutting state aid while capping the property tax would have forced many of our local towns and villages to cut key services and forgo infrastructure repair. Luckily, those cuts did not happen.


The budget increased school aid, although not yet to the level required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. It codified certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses, expedited the trial process, and banned single-use plastic bags starting in March 2020. The budget provided funds to help local governments pay for early voting. It fully funded the Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act and expanded eligibility for free tuition to public colleges. Although upstate senators complained bitterly about the amount of money going to New York City’s MTA, the 2019-20 budget also included money to fund upstate transportation.


Some provisions did not make the cut. Pulled for further discussion were public financing of elections, legalization of recreational marijuana, and the Climate and Community Protection Act.


So nobody’s entirely thrilled with the budget, although it could have been far worse. The process itself is certainly not great. Although most states use the same sort of executive-based budgeting that we use, New York is one of only four states not to have a legislative fiscal office at all. New York gets good grades for its consensus revenue forecasting but poor marks for transparency when it comes to such things as performance measures, the data that tell us whether a program is working and worth the expense. Twenty-one states now have biennial budgeting, but New York is mired in the same old annual fight. And as former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky has pointed out, allowing a powerful executive to pack legislative proposals into a budget may seem perfectly fine when you agree with the proposals, but beware the consequences when you do not.

School boards and budgets
On May 21, you get the one chance you have all year to vote directly on a budget. That’s the date of this year’s Annual Budget Vote and School Board Election. In addition to voting thumbs up or down on your district budget, you will select school board members to serve for the next three years.
Unless you live in the City of Ithaca, you need not even be registered to vote, but you must have lived in your district for 30 days or more. If you live in the City and are unregistered with the Board of Elections or ICSD and wish to vote May 21, you must pre-register in Ithaca at the Office of the Clerk, 400 Lake Street, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. from now through May 7.

Before the November election
Local candidates have filed petitions to get on the November ballot for town and ward positions. From the looks of things, the only primary elections in the county this year will happen June 25 in Danby and Enfield. That does not mean that we won’t have contested elections in November; there will be plenty of those. But only in Danby and Enfield is there more than one candidate per seat on a single ballot line.


Also in June, Dryden Democrats will hold a caucus to select town candidates for November. I’ll have more information on the primary and the caucus in next month’s column.


Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. See the committee website at tcdemocrats.org. The Republican View is published in the last edition of each month.

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