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The train wreck was on time

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 - Updated: 4:11 PM

Well, at least it was on time.

Perhaps that's the best thing that can be said about the state budget that lawmakers approved last week.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders used their typical and reprehensible behind-closed-doors approach to reach agreement on the state's annual financial blueprint, which totals $135 billion.

The process continues to be disgraceful, and the governor in particular promised much better before being elected to office. The parameters of the deal aren't terrible, but they surely could have improved in sunlight.

The state, for instance, plans to raise the minimum wage, phasing in the increase from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016. This decision could have been vastly enhanced by tying further increases into the rate of inflation. That would dispense of having lawmakers coming back periodically and attempting to do the adjusting themselves, through backroom negotiations away from the public spotlight. Raising the minimum wage always leads to a major political battle and often leaves the state's lowest-paid workers years without an increase as that battle rages on.

Lawmakers also have decided to send a $350 rebate check to families in 2014, but they left out single people and those without children, not taking income into consideration in these matters, which doesn't seem particularly fair.

What's more, mailing rebate checks is not the most efficient way to provide tax relief; there are mailing costs associated with that decision.

But lawmakers like it this way because they believe taxpayers give them some credit when such a check shows up at the door. And 2014 is an election year.

On a broader scale, the budget does laudably close a roughly $1.3 billion gap for the new fiscal year, which began Monday.

Unlike their counterparts in Washington, state lawmakers have at least finished an agreed-upon budget and can now focus on other issues. Among them must be passing campaign finance reform, strengthening women's equal rights legislation, and making a decision on whether the state will allow the controversial gas-drilling method called hydrofracking to be used in New York. It's also essential that lawmakers review the gun-control legislation they passed in haste earlier this year and have a civil, open debate about the best ways to fix it.

Fortunately, state leaders do have time to tackle these matters with the budget negotiations out of the way. For decades, the state budget process was a tortuous one, sometimes going into late summer, but under Cuomo, New York has made the deadline for the third consecutive year. It's no small matter, in part, because that gives school districts vital information about state aid before they put up their budgets for voter approval in May.

Still, the state should get only so much credit here. An on-time budget should be expected; it should be a given. The process still is a train wreck -- and end results could be far better.

-- The Poughkeepsie Journal

     

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