Tick, Tick, Tick: Spitzer’s Budget Clock

Governor Eliot Spitzer has gone out of his way to alienate some of the old guard in Albany—folks with long memories will recall how Jimmy Carter did the same thing with Congress, with dismal results. So his proposal to begin budget negotiations 60 days earlier than usual is more than welcome. It may take all of that extra time to salve the wounds which the Governor has inflicted on his partners in the Legislature.

For the better part of the last quarter-century, New York has consistently missed its budget deadline of April 1—no kidding. As a result, local governments and boards of education had to waste time and money scrambling to fill gaps while Albany dithered over how much to spend (and, on rare occasions, on what to cut). The annual spectacle did nothing to inspire voter confidence in either the legislative or the executive branch. Most New Yorkers understood that the rules were different for the high and mighty of Albany. If the average voter missed deadlines for, say, a mortgage payment, there would be hell to pay. In Albany, however, the legal deadline for settling the budget was treated with contempt. Shamelessly, the legislative leaders and the Governor posed for pictures when all was settled. You’d think they would hide rather than publicize their incompetence.

When budget talks begin in November, two months ahead of the usual schedule, Governor Spitzer will need the extra time to make nice with the leaders for whom he has shown little but contempt. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican from upstate Troy, has been a special target of the Governor’s, but Mr. Spitzer also didn’t win any points from his fellow Democrats when he roundly condemned them for appointing a Democratic Assemblyman, Thomas DiNapoli, as State Comptroller after Alan Hevesi resigned.

Mr. Spitzer’s attitude has been holier-than-thou. That’s fine when you’re prosecuting people, as he once did; but it’s not the best course to take when you have to get along with people, as any Governor does if he or she hopes to accomplish anything—like, say, getting a budget, a good budget, finished on time.

There’s no question that Albany needs shaking up. The annual budget debacle became a symbol of the lethargy that set in during George Pataki’s 12 long, atrocious years as Governor. It’s a good idea to start budget talks early, and to get important issues resolved without a clock ticking. The only thing worse than a late budget is a bad budget. Mr. Spitzer’s proposal is a victory for common sense.