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Midnight in Albany

Did they or didn’t they?

More than a few people were asking that question Wednesday morning, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many lawmakers touted passage of the fifth on-time budget in a row, while others noted the Assembly had not yet voted on all of the spending bills when the clock struck midnight Tuesday. The Assembly reportedly finished its work shortly before 3 a.m.

Given the long string of woefully late budgets that preceded Mr. Cuomo’s arrival in the governor’s office, we’re happy to allow him and lawmakers a three-hour grace period. We’re less pleased with the process used to produce a final budget on or about March 31.

Though much criticized, “three men in a room” still largely defines how Albany arrives at a budget agreement. One might argue in favor of expedience if it delivered a spending plan early enough for thoughtful review by lawmakers—and taxpayers.

This is not the case, however. Mr. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced agreement on the 2015-16 budget Sunday night. The news release promised “full details and language to be released Monday.” Yet details remained fairly sketchy well into Tuesday.

The governor and the Legislature’s leaders no doubt would argue that the end result—the approved budget—is what matters. And there certainly are things to like about the plan, including the continued spending restraint. For Upstate New York, the agreement contains $1.5 billion for the governor’s proposed Upstate Revitalization Initiative (though many criticize the fact that only three of seven regions stand to win a share of that).

But really, shouldn’t the people voting on the budget have time to actually read it first?

One other thought on this year’s budget process: Mr. Cuomo’s “my way or the highway” approach to education and ethics reform in the end proved to be mere bluster. He got some but not all of what he demanded, and damaged his own credibility.

A full assessment of the new budget will take more time. Not so rendering judgment on the process that delivered it.

4/3/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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