What's New

Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

September 26, 2005

Panel debates pros and cons of proposed constitutional amendment

The proposed state constitutional amendment on the budget is a “perfidious power grab by the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation,” Assemblyman Patrick Manning (R-Dutchess County) told business leaders gathered at The Business Councils Annual Meeting last week in Bolton Landing.

The Assemblyman made his remarks at a panel discussion on the amendment Friday, September 21. David Little, director of government relations for the New York State School Boards Association, spoke in defense of the proposed amendment. Kevin Walter, an editorial writer for the Buffalo News, moderated the discussion.

Manning told the audience that the proposed amendment wasn’t reform, “it is budget deform.” Manning also admitted voting for the amendment when it was first proposed in the Legislature but said he regretted that vote.

The devil is in the details, Manning said. The more he learned of the amendment and its consequences, the more he regretted his vote. “It’s one of the worst votes of my 10 years in the legislature.”

Little, whose organization supports the amendment, agreed that the proposal is not perfect.

It would be “injuriously simplistic” to think schools support the amendment because the Legislature is much more generous to schools than the governor, Little said. "I too am skeptical of some of the provisions."

Little said the School Boards Association supports the provision in the amendment that would create an independent budget office and the provision that would create two-year funding for schools, simplifying the budget process in local districts.

This amendment is a "proposed change that is not perfect and a little bit self-serving,” Little said. "I would respectfully suggest that you stop worrying whether or not the governor and the Legislature will overspend. They will."

Little said that shifting budgetary power to legislators would decrease the power that lay in the governor. Little suggested that the growing debt burden and rising spending can be attributed, in part, to Governor Pataki.

"This is the status quo that preserves fiscal restraint in New York state?"

But Assemblyman Manning disagreed with Little and said handing budget authority over to the Legislature was “irresponsible.”

“One might as well open the henhouse door and ask the fox to keep things in check." Manning said.

Assemblyman Manning also pointed out that many of the provisions supported by Little could be put in place without a constitutional amendment that would put budget power in the hands of legislators.

The Business Council is opposed to the amendment. Its research affiliate, the Public Policy Institute, has put out a report warning that the proposed amendment would virtually guarantee late budgets every year, make big budget gaps more frequent, and lead to even higher taxes and debt.

"New York needs real budget reform," the Institute report says. "But the constitutional amendment proposed on the November ballot isn't it."

Instead, the report suggests, New York's Constitution could be amended to include legal limits on growth in state spending and taxes, to end Albany's habit of spending more than it can afford. Such a provision, already in place in more than 20 other states, limits annual budget growth to an affordable level such as the inflation rate plus population.

Supporters of the proposed amendment, Proposal One on this year's state ballots, say it will force Albany to enact better and more timely budgets. The PPI report finds otherwise.

"In reality, the proposed amendment would do the opposite," says the Institute's report. "It would give the Legislature much more power over state spending whenever it fails to adopt a new budget by the start of a new fiscal year. Such a powerful incentive for delay would virtually guarantee late budgets every year. And history shows the Legislature’s stronger influence would lead to higher spending and taxes –– thus making it even harder for New York to compete for the jobs we need."