News Release

For Immediate Release
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dick Dadey, (917) 709-2896
DeNora Getachew, (212) 227-0342 x 24
(917) 912-5471

Citizens Union Critiques State's Progress
in Implementing Budget Reforms

Good Government Group Rates 2008 and 2009 State Budget Processes to Determine Compliance with the Budget Reforms Enacted in 2007

Overall Mixed Reviews Necessitate Greater Reforms to Increase Integrity, Transparency, and Efficiency of State Budget Process During the Upcoming Special Session and Normal Budget Process

In advance of another special legislative session to address growing budget deficits for FY 2009-10 and 2010-11, Citizens Union today issued its budget reform report card, analyzing the Governor and the Legislature's progress in implementing the budget reforms enacted in 2007. After evaluating the budget process over the last two years, the organization finds that not only have some of the organization's common-sense reforms not been implemented, but even worse, the state has not followed many of the 2007 reforms it enacted. This analysis builds upon Citizen Union's Issue Brief and Position Statement on New York State Budget Reform issued in December 2008, which outlined the organization's recommendations for how to further improve the efficiency, integrity and transparency of the state budget process.

Citizens Union's major findings from its budget report card are that the process remains opaque and rushed, with legislators and the public having very little to no time to fully evaluate the highly complex and lengthy budget documents. While conference committees were used in 2008, in 2009 most of the budget was negotiated behind closed doors by leadership without conference committees. Even worse, the legislature continued to use lump-sum appropriations to allocate chunks of the budget in a nontransparent manner, taking advantage of loopholes in the 2007 reforms.

On the other end of the spectrum, legislators in 2009 were largely given the full three-day aging period to deliberate on budget bills prior to final passage. In addition, the discretionary funding process was more transparent but not perfect, with the Senate releasing its list of member items in a fully-searchable format; fewer messages of necessity were used in 2009; and detailed fiscal impact statements and summary documents were used for legislative changes to the budget prior to adoption.

Looking forward to this year's mid-year and next year's full budget processes, the state must not repeat the process used for last spring's 2010 budget adoption and February's mid-year budget cuts to the 2009 budget, which was far from transparent and arguably secretive. During the special session next week and next year's normal budget process, elected officials in Albany must not only follow, but strengthen, the existing budget reforms. New York State is facing a worsening fiscal crisis, and given the nature of the state's budget deficits and the cuts New Yorkers are going to be asked to embrace, already painful decisions will be easier to accept if they are made using a process that is transparent, accountable and accessible.

Citizens Union urges the Governor and the State Legislature to build upon the 2007 budget reforms and increased transparency by enacting further needed changes to the budget process that are guided by the following three principles:

  1. Enhance the integrity of the budget process by providing a clear and accurate picture of the complete financial obligations of the state and expected revenue;
  2. Ensure that the budget process is transparent by making budget bills and documents publicly available in clear, consistent formats, and adhering to a publicly available budget calendar; and
  3. Ensure that the budget process is more efficient by allowing for more deliberate decision-making by elected officials.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, “Legislators should not vote on any final budget bill without fully knowing its content and understanding its impact. These proposed measures, if adopted, will bring greater integrity, transparency and efficiency to the state's budget process.”

Chief among the many reforms contained in the organization's Budget Reform Report Card are these top five reforms:

  1. Enact a law to explicitly require the creation of joint conference committees and the holding of conference committee meetings that are public;
  2. Establish a later start date for the fiscal year which would also result in a more accurate counting of tax receipts;
  3. There should be full public availability of all final budget bills before a scheduled vote that will allow sufficient time for analysis, discussion, and debate, as well as provide better opportunities for public participation and review by rank-and-file members;
  4. Sponsoring legislators' names should be listed along with the itemized member items they sponsored in budget appropriation bills during the normal budget process before they are passed; and
  5. Create an independent budget office.

DeNora Getachew, director of public policy and legislative counsel of Citizens Union said, “Public understanding and support will be essential if the Governor and the Legislature are to succeed in making the necessary tough decisions about how to spend limited taxpayer dollars. But that won't happen if the processes this year and next spring are the same as years past.”

Rachael Fauss, policy and research associate and primary drafter of this report card, said “Citizens Union hopes that the Governor and Legislature will seriously consider these reforms as they deliberate on significant cuts to the state budget.”

The complete budget reform report card and issue brief and position statement are available on Citizens Union's website.

Citizens Union of the City of New York, a nonpartisan force for good government for more than 100 years, works to inform and engage New Yorkers, to ensure local and state government values its citizens, addresses critical issues, and operates in a fair, open, and fiscally sound manner.

299 Broadway, Suite 700, New York, NY 10007-1976
Peter J. W. Sherwin, Chair • Dick Dadey, Executive Director •

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