March 23, 2007
SENATE SANTA SEES LATE BUDGET
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno said Wednesday that he’s more than willing to blow through an April 1 deadline in his quixotic effort to add an unprecedented $5 billion in spending to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s state budget plan.
“I don’t care if we’re here ‘til Christmas,” Bruno told listeners to Albany radio station WROW-AM.
Bruno’s fighting for a wish list that includes billions in new tax cuts for high-income taxpayers and profitable corporations, new school aid to the state’s richest districts, and – perhaps most importantly – complete rejection of Spitzer’s proposed reforms to Medicaid and state health care spending.
The Senate Santa’s two-seat majority margin was looking particularly thin this week, as leading Republicans inside and outside the Legislature grumbled over Bruno’s big-spending ways and tight ties to health care giants 1199/SEIU and Greater New York Healthcare Association.
Some insiders predict that Bruno’s leadership could collapse if Spitzer starts a district-by-district PR campaign against the ‘Republican’ budget and its Senate supporters in April.
Leader under fire
At a five-way leaders’ meeting on Tuesday, Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, and even Assembly Minority Leader and fellow Republican James Tedisco offered strong critiques of Bruno’s budget proposals.
Silver, Bruno and Spitzer agreed last month that $575 million in additional revenue was available for new spending, and the Assembly budget didn’t stray too far from those parameters.
But Bruno and Senate Republicans came up with what Dems say is an unaffordable $5 billion in new items, many of which are large-scale tax cuts for high-income households and profitable corporations. And Bruno’s refusing to admit that any of his proposed tax expenditures should be categorized as spending, leaving him far, far away from generally accepted government budget rules.
Conference committee crackup
Bruno called for a last-minute meeting of the General Conference (aka “Mothership”) committee that’s supposed to set spending targets on Wednesday afternoon, knowing that no Democrats would show. He read scripted statements and showed TV clips for nearly 45 minutes, aiming fiery rhetoric primarily at Speaker Silver and asking for public negotiations.
But Silver, Spitzer and Smith said they’d only move forward to discuss details when and if Bruno provides a reality-based accounting of where he’ll get the revenue to accomplish the large-scale expenditures he wants.
Budget conference subcommittees on health and human services met this week, but little could be accomplished without the overarching spending targets the “Mothership” is supposed to provide.
In the Human Services budget committee, Assembly co-chair Susan John stood up for “SSI Invisibility” and fair welfare budgeting for low-income parents of disabled children.
And new Assembly Social Services Chair Keith Wright spoke out clearly and forcefully in favor of the 10% public assistance grant increase supported by the Assembly, ticking off a list of price increases (transit fare up 100%, for example) since grants were last increased in 1990.
Housing Works clients and staff kept meeting with legislators and staff on budget items, especially SSI invisibility.
And we kept pressing for post-budget priorities, including legislation to ensure the AIDS rent crisis gets a permanent fix and to expand the lifesaving benefits offered by New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) to all HIV-positive New Yorkers.
While we’re all waiting on the Senate Santa to head back up the chimney, why not join us in our Albany advocacy? Contact Charles Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.