Monday, March 01, 2010

With the Governor's Role in Dispute, It's Time to Look Critically at '3 Men in a Room'

The heated debate surrounding Governor Paterson’s political future has spawned a subsidiary discussion about his role in the upcoming budget negotiations.

The budget, which is due April 1st, is typically negotiated between the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Governor and behind closed doors. In light of last week’s events, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver suggested that Lieutenant Governor Ravitch should participate in these budget talks. Based on reporting in the Daily News, Senator Eric Adams took this to be a suggestion that Governor Paterson shouldn't have a role in the talks (Silver disputes this is what he meant). The Senator called such a suggestion offensive.

In years past, the results of budget negotiations have come to light at the last minute, and rank-and-file members received thousands of pages of budget bills only days before the deadline and the scheduled vote, giving them little time to read the bills and no opportunity to suggest substantive changes. Last year’s budget process was, by many accounts, the most secretive in decades.

So here’s a different idea: rather than bickering about who should participate in the closed-door budget talks, why not do away with them altogether? Why not debate and revise the budget in the open forum of the legislative chambers and then reconcile the differences in open conference committees as required by the Budget Reform Act of 2007? The Senate is already taking steps to open up the budget process, but all parties could go further to provide the public with access to the conversations that ultimately determine the state’s fiscal future.

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