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Surprise - Your Budget's Ready!

We haven’t yet read the state budget released on Sunday by Governor Andrew Cuomo and his two colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. So we’re not ready to comment on its particulars or the objections that have been raised by unions and other critics. (We did enjoy Tuesday afternoon’s rally in Lafayette Square, where several hundred union members and sympathizers voiced their dissatisfaction with Cuomo’s funding cuts.) But we can discuss how the agreement on the $132.5 billion spending package came as a surprise to many, who were certain that negotiations would take much longer.

The agreement came as a surprise, of course, because it was negotiated behind closed doors. Secrecy and exclusion remain the hallmarks of New York State government, even as the new governor promises—as do all new governors—an era of openness and inclusion. The good government advocacy group Common Cause observes:

While an on-time budget for New York State is a laudable goal, how we get there is equally important. This year’s budget process is distinguished by only one difference from previous years: timing. Otherwise, it remains a closed process, where the people are cut out of the process. The closed and lop-sided budgeting process– no examination, discussion or improvement on the revenue side, only cuts in spending– has generated a multi-billion dollar war of ads between special interests, but no opportunity for true public participation.

An agreement on the state’s approx. $132.5 billion budget was announced on Sunday afternoon after a week-end of non-stop, intense negotiations– all conducted, as traditional, behind closed doors. Conference committee meetings the preceding week were a model of efficiency – some hearings scheduled to last for an hour concluded in less than 30 minutes, as discussions were hastily run through, with few, if any details, regarding actual budget numbers. Little, if any, information was provided to the public in most of these hearings. The actual details of the budget are being gradually released, with startling items revealed by scrambling advocates who, like the legislators, cannot hope to review the entire budget before the Friday deadline.

Meet the new boss.

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