Conservative

Hamlin: New York budget deal’s lack of transparency aids political efficiency

Leading up to Friday’s deadline, New York state legislators tussled over the state budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, with the liberal-leaning assembly and conservative senate leaving a trail of little progress and even less cooperation in their wake. Both parties looked far from willing to negotiate and the stagnant legislative landscape indicated the potential for a frustrating deadline extension.

But when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Majority Senate Speaker John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) emerged from “the back room” late Thursday night, New York’s annual budget was delivered with bipartisan signatures.

In spite of the collaboration, the Center for Judicial Accountability (CJA) is now suing the state legislature for using the “three men in a room, behind closed doors” tactic of negotiation for privately politicking budget issues over the course of last week. The nonprofit seeks out cases in the closed-door processes of judicial selection and discipline on federal, state and local levels.

When political push comes to shove, collaborative progress trumps any breach in policy-making etiquette. Of course, everyone would like the government to be a little more honest about what they do with its money. But shouldn’t taxpayers demand progress from the people elected to office? These three men are appointed leaders for a reason. The deal was a bipartisan victory for the people of New York and this lawsuit only sullies a budget that is otherwise beneficial for the state.

The CJA’s lawsuit claims that the budget process was “unconstitutional,” “unlawful” and “fraudulent.” Yet contrary to CJA’s accusations, state legislators’ lead-footed approach to finalizing the new budget pushed Cuomo, Heastie and Flanagan toward an accelerated game plan as the fiscal year came to a close. The process was a power move for the better from these three leaders.

The senate finally approved a plan to gradually move toward increases in minimum wage, finalized appropriation for public schools to receive a record $24.6 billion in 2016 and established a plan to ensure tax cuts for middle income taxpayers in 2018. While upstate minimum wage will increase slightly year-to-year, downstate wages will spike to $15 an hour by 2018.

These proposals are huge wins for working-class New Yorkers down state, who will see their minimum wage rise 67 percent by 2018. Even Republican senators, who will likely lose love from voters in November for passing the budget plan, gained some breaks for small businesses upstate.

With Cuomo and Heastie leading the charge for the Democrats and Flanagan representing the Republican Party, there could be no more efficient way to iron out legislation in the waning days before deadline than for the three to meet privately. We’ve seen federal representatives flip-flop on issues, extend deadlines for weeks — even months — past their original dates. You hear moans about stalemates in Washington, with most whiners repeating the mantra that the government gets nothing done. These three got it done. These three did their job.

Just as Flanagan and Heastie have the authority to lead their respective parties, Cuomo has the constitutional power to make budget “recommendations as he may deem proper with respect to (Judicial and Legislative) budgets” under New York state law.

Donald Dutkowsky, an economics professor in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said Cuomo has taken steps toward increased infrastructural efficiency.

“He doesn’t like deadlocks,” said Dutkowsky. ”(Cuomo has) placed high priority on getting tasks done, whether it be with three men in a room or the group as a whole. What’s important to him is getting the tasks done in a timely manner.”

Considering the legislative body was at a standstill before Cuomo, Heastie and Flanagan met last week, the governor’s power to both lead and advise on a budget plan are necessary and proper.

There might be some scuffles over its deliverance, but a budget plan has been approved, in which education will receive the most funding in the history of New York and minimum wage is set to raise to $15 per hour. Both sides were heard. A bipartisan decision drafted and authorized by three men elected to lead their political bases serves the people better than a deadline extension.

It’s all about progress, and in the polarized American political spectrum, it would be criminal to hold productive politicians in contempt for their initiative.

Brian Hamlin is a sophomore communications and rhetorical studies major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at brhamlin@syr.edu.

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