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Saturday, October 25, 2014

In Albany these days, the talk is all about money

Somehow, some way, in the next week, New York state will have a new budget. Almost all of the details will remain out of the public eye until the very last moment, and that’s probably a good thing. Based on my experience, no person running a multi-billion-dollar enterprise would do things the way they do them in state government.

By April 1, the people who follow state budgets will find out how much money has been set aside for public schools, mass transit, health care and all the other categories of spending. Long Island legislators will have fought for more money for school aid. Upstate members will have battled and settled for new dollars for roads, bridges and economic development. And city legislators will have gotten more money for mass transit and hospitals. It sounds easy, but it isn’t.

Everyone in Albany agrees that there are surplus dollars that state legislators are itching to spend. The economy has been improving, and tax collections are rising. But every new program you create costs more the following year, and today’s surplus is tomorrow’s deficit. That has always been the story, from the days when I served in Albany right up to the present.

Tax cuts? There have been hundreds of suggestions made on how to cut state taxes, and who should benefit. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to give rebate checks to homeowners, which would arrive a few weeks before the November election. The Senate and Assembly are fighting to see which personal and corporate tax cuts would do the most to keep the state’s economy humming. There is no doubt that there will be various tax cuts that will affect some favored groups, and hopefully they will save us a few dollars.

There has been enormous pressure on the Legislature to provide massive amounts of money for pre-kindergarten education. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio based his whole campaign last year on a pledge to increase taxes for people making over $500,000 to pay for these programs. It sounded simple, but the mayor forgot that the State Legislature decides how city residents are taxed, and the tax on so-called rich people was a non-starter.

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