State Budget Passes, Finally

By Jerry Hoffman
Monday, May 1, 2017

After several twists and turns, the New York State Executive Budget for fiscal year 2017–2018 was given final approval in the early hours of April 10.

Adoption of the budget, however, ended the string of six straight “on time” budgets. The string had been a proud accomplishment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco of Syracuse claimed that the governor was paying more attention to his possible run for president in 2020 instead of focusing on the state budget. Cuomo predictably dismissed that accusation. Uncertainty about cuts in federal aid from Washington and negative impact on New York state from any changes in the Affordable Care Act also complicated this year’s state budget process.

When the state budget for the new fiscal year — which began on April 1 — was not in place, Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders did agree on a 1,000-page budget extender effective through May 31. The budget extender had a short 10-day lifespan that came to a close with approval of the Executive Budget. In January the governor had unveiled his budget proposal during stops in several cities across the state, a departure from the usual practice of presenting the proposed budget in writing in Albany. Prior to the mid-1960s, both houses would complete the session each year and adjourn before Passover and Easter.

In those years, only the governor had the authority to call legislators back to Albany for a special session. The agenda for the special session was set by the governor. Years later, the state Legislature made changes in their rules that, in reality, did away with the term “adjournment” and replaced it with the term “recess.” This resulted in giving more power to the legislative branch at the expense of the executive branch. The state Senate and Assembly, in effect, have control of their own work schedules. Special sessions are not as widely used as in the past. In 1964, another significant development impacting the state Legislature happened when the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ordered the state Legislature to redraw district lines for the two houses utilizing the “one man, one vote” rule. This is presently politically incorrect and really means “one person” as opposed to “one man.”

Prior to the court-ordered reapportionment, each county, for example, regardless of size, was entitled to at least one senator and one member of the Assembly. The new districts did away with that practice and an approximate number of voters for each district was set in stone, with a small number for Assembly districts and a larger number for Senate districts. Reapportionment changed the political landscape and gave more power and seats for the more populated downstate areas. Democrats benefitted greatly since Democrat voters downstate outnumber Republicans in many areas.

Following the landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, Democrats gained control of both the state Senate and the state Assembly. Assemblyman Anthony Travia was elected speaker of the assembly at the start of the 1965 session. Senate Democrats were unable for several weeks to agree upon the new senate majority leader. Senator John Hughes of Syracuse, a Republican, brought the deadlock to a close by lining up enough GOP senators to elect Democrat Senator Joseph Zaretzski as the new Majority Leader. Senator Hughes, a fiscal conservative, was at odds for many years with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller over the governor’s spending policies.

Beginning with the 1965 session, the Senate and the Assembly started to be in session until July. Members of each house went from being truly part-timers to year-round public servants. Being a Senate staff person for 25 years, I am not sure that this shift is really in the best interests of the public. We have seen legislative expenditures skyrocket. Year-round state legislatures are now common across the country. I do not think that our forefathers envisioned that legislative duties should be full time. It is amazing that our forefathers were able to come to agreement on many, many controversial issues. Differences of opinion were recognized and compromises were made. These days compromise is a dirty word to many, which is very sad. The “my way or the highway” is too prevalent in politics and in life.

Gerald N, “Jerry” Hoffman was chief executive officer of the Onondaga County Medical Society from 1981 until his retirement on Jan. 31, 2014, and is co-author of two books, Medical Malpractice Insurance: A Legislator’s View, and The History of Local Medical Care, 1806-2006.