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September 27, 2005

Crain's publisher says proposed constitutional amendment is not reform

The proposed constitutional amendment is not real reform and, if passed by voters this November, would virtually guarantee higher spending and late budgets, said Alair Townsend, publisher of Crain’s New York Business.

“New York spends too much, and it has the second-highest state and local tax burden in the nation to support this spending,” Townsend wrote in the September 26 issue of the influential business weekly. “It has the nation’s second-lowest bond rating. The spending appetite of elected officials is such that we face yawning budget gaps for years to come.”

“If you believe that the greatest failure of the state budget process is too little taxing and spending, then you should vote yes,” Townsend wrote. “If not, you should join The Business Council of New York State, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens Union, the Citizens Budget Commission, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for New York City in active opposition.”

Many voters and good government groups are demanding reform and legislators are promising that the constitutional amendment on the ballot this November is the answer these groups are looking for, the essay said.

“Don’t be fooled,” the essay said. “It is not reform. It does not require that the budget be balanced at year-end. It does nothing to rein in debt. It doesn’t contain any provisions to moderate spending. It merely gives the legislature more power.”

“The measure should not be approved,” Townsend wrote.

“The state constitution now gives the governor a strong hand,” she said. “The legislators must use the governor’s budget as a starting point.”

Lawmakers can reduce or eliminate spending proposed in the governor’s budget but they cannot raise spending without negotiating with the governor, Townsend said.

Legislators are furious that their appetite for spending is stymied by constitutional limits on their power, she said. The proposed amendment deals the governor out of the process and allows legislators to design their own budgets.

“The ballot provides that if a budget is not in place at the start of the fiscal year, a contingency budget automatically goes into effect while legislators set about writing their own budget,” Townsend wrote. “Far from ensuring timely budgets, the amendment would virtually guarantee late ones, because once the fiscal year has begun, legislators would be free to ignore the governor’s proposals.”

Townsend, who is also served as New York City finance director under former mayor Ed Koch, also pointed out that the Legislature has added billions of dollars to the governor’s executive budget over the past three years. “The amendment is a recipe for even greater profligacy.”