Lawmakers may have to cut their vacations short

When the 2018 session calendar for the state Legislature came out last year, experienced participants in and observers of New York state government did a gulp when they saw the end of March and early April.

The deadline for getting the 2018-19 state budget approved by the Legislature is falling squarely on a couple of major religious holidays: Easter and Passover. And the traditional two-week legislative recess connected to those holidays was built into the schedule.

The common practice in Albany has been for leaders to wait until the final days before the budget deadline to hammer out a deal and announce it to rank-and-file lawmakers and public. This has resulted in budgets often approved in the middle of the night, with little or no opportunity for public review. In fact, there’s often been little or no opportunity for the voting legislators themselves to even read the budget bills.

That’s bad government … but all the signs are pointing to a repeat of that process again this year.

Based on this year’s legislative calendar, which starts a recess of more than two weeks today, an on-time budget would have required lawmakers to finish their final votes by midnight on Thursday. The law says that those budget bills can’t be voted upon for three days after they are officially put on legislators’ desks. But a commonly used workaround for that provision has been the “message of necessity” that eliminates that requirement. It’s supposed to be used for emergency legislation, not for fixing the consequences of procrastination.

If budget bills can get printed out by Monday and allow for the full review period, we urge lawmakers to conduct their due diligence and listen to their constituents and cast the vote they think best represents their districts. But if the votes are forced without any meaningful review under a message of necessity, we urge them to vote no and insist on following the proper legislative process.

At the same time, we don’t want this budget deadline to get pushed into the middle of April. School districts, municipalities and nonprofits — especially those in the middle of their of own budget formulations — need to have some clear-cut information about what they can expect from the state in terms of revenue assistance and cost mandates. Therefore, if this budget can’t be passed via the proper process this week, lawmakers must cut their vacations short and get back to Albany to finish the work they were elected to do.

The Auburn Citizen