Volume 74, Number 28 | November 17 - 22, 2004

Assemblymembers slam governor’s veto of budget reform

By Ronda Kaysen

When Governor George Pataki vetoed a budget reform bill on Monday — approved unanimously in both houses of the State Legislature — many state lawmakers expressed disappointment at what they saw as a move by the governor to undermine the authority of the Legislature.

The bill, an overhaul of the state’s budget process, would have delayed the start of the fiscal year by a month, moving the date from April 1 to May 1, allowing lawmakers to wait until after the April 15 tax deadline to start the fiscal year. It would also have established an independent budget office and provided for a contingency budget if the budget was not enacted by the new May 1 deadline. The post-election veto, without negotiations, outraged some lawmakers in Albany.

“It is outrageous that the governor is opposing intelligent reform of the budget process and vetoed the bill without ever trying to have a productive conversation on the subject with anyone in the legislature,” said Chelsea Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

The bill would have given more authority in budget decisions to the Legislature. Too much power, in fact, according to Pataki. In a press conference on Monday, the governor said the bill would encourage future Legislatures to ignore future governors and result in a chronically late budget.

But some lawmakers see the veto as a clear move by the governor to render the Legislature irrelevant. “He [Pataki] would like nothing more than there to be not three men in the room, but one man in the room, and he be the determiner of everything,” said Greenwich Village Assemblymember Deborah Glick, referring to the long-standing belief that all state-level decisions are made by Governor Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

The governor, Glick said, has been able to remain relatively unscathed in the searing criticism that the Legislature has faced recently for the state’s dysfunctional budget process. (The state budget has been late every year for the past 20 years.) The veto, she said, sent a message that the governor does not intend to cede any power in the arcane budget process to the Legislature. “He [Pataki] wanted to remind people that he had some relevance,” she said. “He does not want a situation in which a bipartisan budget package could be advanced without him, which has actually happened over the last two years.”

According to Gottfried, this week’s veto is part of a larger effort by the governor to undermine the Legislature. Several legal cases brought against the Legislature by the governor’s office regarding past budgets show a pattern of restructuring the distribution of power, said Gottfried. “The positions that he [Pataki] is arguing in the State Court of Appeals are basically to bar the Legislature from disagreeing with anything he tries to do in the budget,” he said.

Governor Pataki’s office did not a return call for comment.

The budget reform bill, which needs two terms of legislative approval and a referendum by the voters, because it changes aspects of the state constitution, could be overridden by the Legislature and made into law, an effort that would begin in the State Senate. In a public statement, Majority Leader Bruno wrote that he and members of the Senate Majority Conference “will discuss how we will proceed in our efforts to reform the state budget process.”

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