Niagara Gazette

April 1, 2013

CITY DESK: Hooray for Albany

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I find it hard to believe everyday, working-class people give a darn about whether the New York state budget is on time or not.

Unless they are state workers or work for a place that relies heavily on state funding, why would they?

It’s ridiculous when Albany politicians pat themselves on the back for passing a budget on time. 

It’s like saying, ‘hey, give me credit, I did my job.’

I generally arrive on time for work. Perhaps I should be celebrating more. 

The Albany celebrations have grown in exuberance the last three years. 

Following the passage of the 2013-14 spending plan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a video message exclaiming: “New York is coming back. New York is rising and we are building on our strengths.”

Countless other press releases from other breathless state lawmakers followed, all exalting the passage of an on-time state budget for the third year in a row as a sign that Albany’s dysfunction is somehow less dysfunctional and Republicans and Democrats alike have set aside their partisan ways for the good of the good people they represent. 

It’s nonsense really. 

This is the sort of thing they think will impress the commoners, give them something to think about come election time. 

The real impact of the budget won’t be felt for weeks, months even. There will be little taxes and fees — there always are — that pop up when we least expect them. 

We already know some of us will be getting $350 rebate checks before Election Day 2014. 

Rebate checks the state can afford and, yet, we’re told there’s less money for things like programs for the disabled. 

The Buffalo Bills — a lucrative pro football franchise — made out like a bandit with millions heading its way for stadium renovations.

The film and television industry, ostensibly to lure “The Tonight Show” to New York City from Los Angeles, got some expensive cookies too.

And us — the ones with the jobs and the homes and the businesses that pick up the tax tabs — we get to keep rolling along, inundated with sound bites and press clippings about the “new and stronger Empire State,” all the jobs New York is gaining and, of course, the newfound timeliness of annual spending plans.

Not good enough. I say people deserve better, by a longshot.

My gauge for success in government is based almost solely on how well it is serving those around me.

When I hear the concerns of friends and family members who are struggling to get by even though they are working long hours and, in some cases, multiple jobs, I’m not impressed. 

When I drive around and look at rows and rows of abandoned buildings on broken streets, I can’t help but wonder what happened to all those tax dollars, state funds included, that went into annual budget year after year. 

School district after school district complains about not having enough money to do the job, arguably the most important job: teaching our kids. Every late winter and early spring the conversation inside district board rooms revolves around what Albany didn’t give them, what services may have to go and what tax rate structure they will be able to live with for the coming year. 

This despite the fact that New Yorkers are spending — and winning — more on New York State Lottery games than ever before. Lottery games, as we all know, were developed by Albany power brokers to fund education so schools wouldn’t have to cry so poor all the time.

The state budget is on time for the third year in a row and that’s great. 

It’s certainly better than the infighting that characterized so many dragged out budget approval processes of years past. 

The measure, however, of a successful government is not how efficient it is at carrying out rudimentary activities like setting up a budget for the coming year’s revenues and expenses.

The measure of an effective government is how it serves the people it represents.

My fellow New Yorkers, do you fell well served or, like me, do you still have that nagging feeling as though you’re still getting played.

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.