The Budget Season: The Governor and the Legislature Work to Craft a Budget Before the April 1 Deadline (with lots of horse-trading)

Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made, Otto Von Bismarck

The first week in January the 213 members of the New York State legislature trekked to Albany for the beginning of the new term: 213 angry members.  Angry because they have not received a raise since 1999 – eighteen years without a raise. While the legislature is a full time job there are no prohibitions on outside employment. Many members are full time others have law or real estate practices; the salary is $78.500 plus per diems for each day in session and additional salary for committee chairmanships. The governor argued for strict limits on outside income and strict ethics reforms, the Republicans opposed income limits and both houses had doubts about the proposed ethics rules. At the last moment the governor walked away from the talks: no raises for the next two years.

Early in the morning on April 1, very early, as the sun rises in the east the legislature will complete passing the budget bills. Under the arcane budget rules the budget bills can contain policies that have nothing to do with the budget. Welcome to what was once called Baghdad on the Hudson were everyone was for sale!

Over the next three weeks legislators time in Albany will increase, lobbyists will huddle with legislators, citizens will descend on Albany to advocate for their causes. Receptions will be held, e-mailboxes will overflow every day with constituent appeals, fax machines will hum all day.

Hanging over the entire process, the elephant in the room is actually down I-95 in DC. How will federal legislation impact the Affordable Care Act (“repeal and replace” for New York State residents)? How will legislation impact Medicaid? New York State may be faced with drastic cuts to healthcare services and/or having to find billions of dollars. The decisions in Washington are months away and the legislature may have to return to Albany later in the year.

With hovering storm cloud the state will hammer out a budget:

A major education issue:

Will the budget fully restore the dollars required to fulfill the CFE lawsuit?

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) in two detailed policy papers, “Too Many Children Still Waiting: Making Quality Early Learning a Top Priority in the 2017 Budget ” and  “Alternative Facts and Historical Fiction: Fact Checking Governor Cuomo on School Aid” explain the funding issues in detail

The Assembly, primarily representing urban areas fully supports the reports referenced above. The Senate, primarily representing suburban and rural areas wants to assure that the areas they represent will retain current funding levels and additional future funding. About two/thirds of education dollars are generated by property taxes, with increases limited to 2% or the inflation rate, whichever is lower. High income districts, high property values equals more dollars for schools, lower income, lower property values, less money for schools. The state formula attempts to equalize funding; however, New York State leads the nation in the disparity of school funding within the state despite the state distributed share.

In budget negotiations everything is linked, in the dim recesses of the Capital agreements will be made, Carl Heastie, John Flanagan and Andrew Cuomo, actually their surrogates, will patch together the agreement,

Folks will be appalled, deals made behind closed doors, they will call for transparency, for sunlight, in my view failing to understand that governments, from 5th BC century Athenian democracy to Albany in 2017 is made up of governments that reflect the governed. When compromise is not possible, when rigid ideology rules, as we find in Washington, the result is gridlock, the absence of legislation; in Albany, in spite progressive democrats and tea party republicans, compromises are achieved.

James Madison, in Federalist Paper # 51 reminds us,

 Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Some in both houses, angry over the failure of the governor to support a salary increases are threatening not to have a timely budget, probably a baseless threat.

Another education issue:

Will the governor support, oppose or ignore bills to create charter school transparency? (Read bill here)

In 2014 the state teacher union made no endorsement for governor and a number of locals endorsed Cuomo’s opponent in the democratic primary. In the next budget cycle the governor was kind to charter schools, increased the probationary period for teachers and verbally assaulted teachers and their union, The union (NYSUT) responded with TV commercials, the governor’s favorability rating slumped.  In December, 2015, after months of quiet diplomacy a Cuomo-appointed task force report included a moratorium on the use of test scores to assess teachers. (Read the report with the twenty recommendations here)

Some teachers ask me: how can you “trust” Cuomo?

Cuomo is the governor, and will undoubted be better for education and teachers than a Republican governor.

Trust is not the issue: sometimes interests align, sometimes they don’t. Coalitions are formed around an issue and fade away afterwards. I file grievances against my superintendent and work with him to seek funding for a project. We agree to disagree.

In 2009 the UFT, the New York City teacher union “went to war” with Mayor Bloomberg, knowing that no contract would be negotiated for at least four years, and also knowing that the mayor was term-limited and the City Council was on the union side. The mayor left office tarnished, it was a fight he should have avoided.  “Going to war” with Cuomo is another story, there are no term limits in Albany, and, the governor has extraordinary powers.

For the past year or so the governor has been silent on education, the Cuomo Commission report aligns with policies supported by teachers and  their union, and, the 2016 budget contained considerable education dollars.

As the clock ticks down towards April 1 the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship plan, free tuition in CUNY and SUNY for full time students whose parent earn less than $125,000, will be vigorously debated (See an argument here).

After an Easter-Passover  recess the legislature will return to Albany, two day a week sessions escalating to five days a week before the mid-June adjournment.

Tuesday is Lobby Day for the UFT, under a long-established agreement a union member for each school is released to travel to Albany to lobby for the issue of the day – this year: full implementation of the CTE funding decision.

Back in the day I always took kids on the bus to Albany. I assigned them the task of researching the issue, practice making a presentation, and, the kids led the discussion with the electeds. At the end of each term I handed out a brief student survey (“What did you like best about the class? Why? What did you like least? Why? What could I do differently? Quick! What one thing do remember about the class? Why?)  Kids remembered the trip to Albany and their presentation. (“It made me feel important … like I was making a difference.”)

Colleagues warned me, you get in trouble allowing the kids to make presentation. I thought, can you get in trouble teaching kids to think?

It didn’t work too well for the first teacher “brought up on charges, ” a while ago, 399 BC, Socrates got in trouble,

“Socrates is guilty of crime in refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young.”

The penalty; death.

Teacher discipline rules were tough way back in Athens.

According to Churchill, we’ve come a long way,

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

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