Gounardes: Legislature ‘not a co-equal’ in budget process

A freshman lawmaker who got his first taste of the messy, sausage-making process involved in formulating the state budget said he emerged from the experience with mixed feelings.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who was elected in November, said that while he is pleased that several items pushed by Democrats wound up in the final version of the $175 billion state budget, the process revealed peculiarities in the system that he found frustrating.

Chief among his concerns: the governor has a much larger say than the state legislature.

“When the people elected us in November, their message was clear: Return government to the people. Despite the successes, this process has shown that the legislature is not a co-equal branch of government in relation to the budget,” Gounardes said in a statement.

Under the New York State Constitution, a governor yields enormous power over the state’s budget process. And that power has increased as a result of court decisions over the years.

Gounardes, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, isn’t the only person who noticed it.

City and State reported back in January (https://bit.ly/2UlDPt0) that Gov. Andrew Cuomo “holds nearly all of the leverage” and that members of the State Senate and Assembly “have limited options to pursue changes” when it comes to crafting a budget.

Idealistic freshmen lawmakers were in for “a rude awakening,” former Westchester Assembly member Richard Brodsky told City and State.

The budget for the 2019-2020 year was approved by the legislature last weekend, in time for the April 1 deadline.

Despite his reservations over the process, Gounardes said he was pleased with most of the items in the budget.

“The 2019-2020 budget resolution addresses a number of fundamental issues and long-standing priorities for the hard working people in southern Brooklyn and across New York state,” Gounardes said. “It fundamentally changes our mass transit system by reorganizing the MTA, increasing accountability and creating dedicated funding streams for desperately needed improvements. It assures our citizens access to quality, affordable healthcare with codification of the Affordable Care Act. It advances our education system with an increase of over $1 billion in funding. And it returns trust to state government and reforms the electoral system, expanding access to voting.”

The legislature also approved a congestion pricing plan to bring additional funding to the MTA to repair and upgrade New York City’s subways and buses. Under congestion pricing, drivers will be charged a toll for entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. In addition to funding transit repairs, the program is designed to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan.

The newly adopted budget also includes a mandate that workers be given three hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day; an increase of over $1 billion in education aid; a reorganization of the MTA as well as a requirement that the agency’s performance metrics be publicly reported; and codifying key provisions of the Affordable Care Act to protect New Yorkers in the event the Obama-era law is overturned in the federal courts.

Gounardes said that not everything on his wish list made it into the budget.

“While we have made great strides, I am disappointed the budget did not include a pied-a-terre tax on homes worth over $100 million, much needed resources for CUNY, the full amount of foundation aid to our schools and did not fully realize our promise of a robust public financing system for elections,” he said.

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