2004-09-30 / Editorials

Tardy Budget Not Lawmakers’ Fault

by assemblymember ivan lafayette


In response to all the media finger-pointing about the failures of the New York state legislature, I submit the following thoughts. The media has been focusing on the bill and budget process, both of which are extremely important; however, one area they overlook is that the legislature has oversight responsibility. Legislators not only ensure that their districts are not harmed by the laws or regulations of New York state, but we also investigate the state and local agencies that administer the laws and regulations to make sure they are doing their job appropriately. We also determine if there are loopholes in state law or state regulations which have not been foreseen, that may be doing some harm to a segment of the population. An additional part of our responsibilities is to meet with civic groups, not-for-profit groups, local elected legislators and administrators.

As you look back throughout the past 20 years you can see that the New York state legislature has technically not had an on-time budget. But when you examine the process a bit more closely you can see that the budget process is one that is ongoing and occurs throughout the year. In the days when I was first elected in 1976 we passed a budget on April 1. We then would have to borrow $5 billion to make initial payments for school districts, contracts, state salaries, and government services. Over the next few months we would continue to work on a more comprehensive budget. Usually in June we would then pass a contingency budget which took care of any additional needs in New York state. Then, later that fall we would pass a deficiency budget to correct any discrepancies from the budget passed earlier in the year. Granted the budget is not completely finished by the April 1 deadline, but great care is taken throughout the year to make sure that the budget is a good one.

Before a determination is made, legislators have countless meetings with each other and with leadership on how certain issues affect the people we represent and how we feel they will affect New York State as a whole. We also do this through the committee process, in our Democratic Conferences, and we meet with the Speaker, either individually, or as part of a delegation or caucus. The Speaker is always very careful and diligent to state his positions on issues to our Democratic Conference.

We are very careful in looking at all aspects of what is in the law or in the budget is beneficial, or at least not harmful, to the people we represent. I take great pride each year in the number of advances we make for the people of New York state. If this takes more time, it is not because of laziness or dereliction, but because of the great concern we have for the people we represent.

The Speaker of the Democratic majority of the Assembly, who has to manage 103 strong-minded Democrats and 47 Republicans, and negotiate with the Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and a Republican governor, has to make decisions and use every means to ensure that our Democratic principals move forward. Without the solidarity among the Assembly Democratic majority, many of whom have different philosophies, we would not have achieved the many successes that even you would have to believe to be important. These successes include rent stabilization, universal pre-kindergarten, empire business zones, the child health and family health plus programs, the EPIC program, and homeowner caps on increases in taxation and so on. All these were achieved through forceful and lengthy debates within the context of the budget. Our democratic principals have been a good thing for the people of New York City and the rest of the state, and the delays were worthwhile.

In response to the Brennan Center for Justice’s recent report entitled “The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform,” it is apparent that the individuals involved in making the recommendations clearly do not understand the legislative process. As a matter of fact, many of the recommendations to improve the legislative process are already in place. There is one recommendation which is clearly a bad one. They want to limit the number of bills a legislator can introduce. This is a horrible idea. They cite a statistic that between 1997 and 2001 approximately 77,000 bills were introduced in the legislature and only 8 percent were signed into law. They believe this creates a misallocation of resources. First of all, when you limit the number of bills a member can introduce you are limiting member creativity and ingenuity. It is important for a member to have the freedom to address areas of need for the people of this state through legislation. When that is limited, myriad of areas which may need to be dealt with will not get addressed.

In addition, the Brennan Center is not taking into consideration a number of factors about the number of bills which are introduced. First of all, many bills which are introduced are incorporated into the state budget and not passed as individual bills. Also, state agencies incorporate many bills into their regulations. These regulations do not have to be passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. Legislators also introduce legislation to simply bring an issue to the forefront to generate a discussion on the matter. Also many bills are combined into one omnibus bill and passed by the legislature. As you can see, the Brennan Center for Justice did not factor in all the reasons for bill introduction.

The aforementioned comments in no way mean that some reforms aren’t necessary. Both the Senate and the Assembly passed a budget reform package to make the process more efficient and accountable. Included in the budget reform package are changing the start of the fiscal year from April 1 to May 1 to allow for more accurate revenue and expenditure figures, requiring conference committees to resolve differences between the Senate and Assembly, having a contingency budget go into effect on May 1st if there is no agreement on a budget (appropriations in the contingency budget would be the same as the preceding year), two-year appropriation for public schools, the creation of an independent budget office, and greater review of agency budget requests. The governor has yet to sign into law this much needed budget reform package. The present system of continuous resolutions follows a model in place for many years in the United States Congress. I am not happy with that system either because the federal government has not passed an “on-time” budget in the past 20 years.

As a senior legislator, I am aware that the process is not perfect and some reforms do need to be made. As you look at the past 20 years many advances have been made for the people of New York state and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish. But by taking a narrow view of the Legislature the Brennan Center and others in the media clearly do not have an understanding of the legislative process and thus are in no position to make recommendations for reform.

Sincerely,

Ivan C. Lafayette

Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette represents the 34th Assembly district in Jackson Heights.

The American Flag

To The Editor:

The United States Senate is about to vote on a Constitutional amendment on a ban on flag burning. I wholeheartedly agree with this move by the Senate for I believe the American flag should only be disposed of by the prescribed manner.

I was reading a piece written by Major General Patrick H. Brady [retired] who said, “Many Americans, on induction into the military, have raised their right hand and sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. All Americans who raise their right hand to their heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance take that oath. Both the oath and the Pledge are taken in the presence of Old Glory to emphasize that our flag is the symbol of our Constitution.” To this I say he hit it right on the money.

Let’s take this further. If we allow the American flag to be burned for instance by any person or group who disagrees with U.S. policy, is that not an attack on every man and woman who defended our nation and our flag in time of war?

We are a nation of many different people with hopes, dreams and aspirations, but the symbol of all these things is the American flag. It is not just cloth with stars and stripes, of colors of red white and blue, but is the embodiment of what we believe and more than that, it means to me freedom for all.

Remember this too, the Pledge of Allegiance, “I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Sincerely yours,

Frederick R. Bedell Jr.

Little Neck

Two Bad Choices

To The Editor:

The American voter is confronted with two extremes that have divided the nation evenly. On the one hand President [George W.] Bush has led the U.S. to places we may not have gone justifiably. His views on Iraq and many other issues have been described as stubbornness that begins and ends with his profound conviction that he is right regardless of indications to the contrary.

Sen. [John] Kerry announces his thoughts and considerations publicly empowering many to be confused by his thinking and calling into question his decisiveness. His wandering statements have earmarked him as being Mr. Flip-Flop, creating doubt of his capability of being president.

The present state of U.S. policies domestically and internationally causes anxiety to many. The isolation of the U.S. from its established and important allies, Germany and France, which have also strained relations with Russia and China, have proven costly in terms of human and financial resources. Going it alone, or going without the world powers has proven a foolish task. Regardless of what party or candidate one may support, Bush has pursued policies that have alienated our friends and allies. The Bush Administration began to do so well before the 9/11 attacks.

Bush denies and rejects any report or information that opposes the end result he foresees resulting from his decisions. As a consequence some have described him as a flimflam, willfully misleading the public and being deceitful.

In November the voters will have to decide to vote for a man who seems unable to accept the world as it is or one that cannot make up his mind. The alternative view is to re-elect the policies of the past four years or trust the future of the nation to a new and untested administration.

Edward Horn

Baldwin, New York

FTAA Deceives Public

To The Editor:

The American people are not being told about the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, that it is much more than a simple trade pact. The architects of the FTAA intend that it broaden and deepen NAFTA. Instead of U.S., Mexico, and Canada, which comprise NAFTA, the FTAA would broaden NAFTA by encompassing all 34 nations of the Western Hemisphere, with the ‘current’ exception of Cuba. It would deepen NAFTA by involving the FTAA in an ever-increasing number of functions that are properly the private domain of national governments. Even now, NAFTA tribunals are claiming the authority approved 10 years ago by Congress, and have over turned the decisions of U.S. courts.

In 1993, Henry Kissinger lobbied for NAFTA by noting that NAFTA “is not a conventional trade agreement, but the architecture of a new international system.” the FTAA would be a further expansion of that architecture with a shifting of control of government’s function to unelected hemispheric bureaucrats.

The appeal to ‘free trade’ in the name chosen for this latest scam is a blatant deception. Trade under the FTAA would be highly regulated by socialist-minded bureaucracy, even more so than what has occurred under NAFTA.

Americans must become informed about these so-called Trade Agreements that are slowly strangling and destroying our nation. The FTAA will speed up the dismantling of our nation’s once great manufacturing base. We must tell our senators and representatives that our nation doesn’t need, nor can it afford, the FTAA.

Please contact www.STOPtheFTAA.org for more information. Let’s stop this insane destruction of the greatest nation in the world while time permits!

A Concerned American

Frank S. Ferrari

Bayside

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