EDITORIAL: Who needs a budget?

IT’S TAX SEASON ONCE MORE. But even though taxes get our attention, it takes planning for anyone to spend so much of our money. And what we’re actually experiencing (… ignoring?) is Budget Season for the county’s six public school districts, four villages and the State of New York. All of those levels of government are currently crafting their annual budget proposals for their 2022-23 fiscal year.

School districts are awaiting a final state budget, because that assures them of the amount of state aid they will receive, which adds up to a significant part of their annual spending. School districts affect almost everyone in the communities they serve. In addition to teachers and students and all sorts of staff members, school taxes are the largest local levy most property owners pay each year.

The state constitution requires that the governor and the state legislature agree on a state budget before April 1. (Negotiations used to drag on for months, but whatever you might think of him, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budgets met the deadline.) What makes this season a little different is that the state has plenty of money but still lacks a consensus among the Democrats—who control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office—on how best to spend all the money they have.

How much is that? In Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget issued back in January, total state aid for schools statewide comes to $31.2 billion, an increase of over $2 billion compared to the current year. That means a district like Hudson should be able to handle an anticipated increase in transportation costs in the next school year without cutting programs. (See story on Page 1.) Not every school district gets an increase every year. The funding is based on complex state aid formulas, but for the coming school year federal pandemic recovery funds and higher than expected tax revenues have brought the political leaders in the state capitol together on the subject of public school funding.

The extra money has helped resolve some of the differences in Albany. Others have now surfaced. This week The New York Times reported that the Democratic majorities in the Assembly and state Senate disagree with each other on the amount that needs to be spent to expand childcare and both majorities differ with the governor over what needs to be done. Also this week WAMC Northeast Public Radio broadcast a segment on how the governor and some Democratic legislators are at odds over whether to refine the state’s bail reform law, which Gov. Hochul wants modified.

To adopt a budget requires agreement by the governor and both houses of the legislature. And with primaries and an election ahead and plenty of federal funds, it’s time for state lawmakers and the governor to compromise and pass a budget so government can start writing checks for schools and school buses and reliable childcare.

But look no further than a front page or the top story of mainstream media to be reminded how irrational humans can be. But knowing that others behave badly doesn’t give state politicians license to behave badly too.

If you live in a village, pick up the phone and call the village clerk or go online to find the date and time for the next Village Board meeting. Go see what your government is doing. You can learn a lot from the people elected to do the time consuming work needed to manage a village, and it’s the budget that explains where the funds will go. But the money they are so busy budgeting? It’s yours.

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