Central New York legislators are split on the recent state budget process. While some see significant gains, others see missed opportunities and purely political motivations.
State Sen. David Valesky with the Independent Democratic Conference said there is a lot to be pleased about in the state's new spending plan.
“By and large I think this was a tremendously successful state budget,” Valesky said.
The budget includes infrastructure investments, college affordability and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old.
“We’d always like to do more, but this in many ways had to be a belt-tightening year," Valesky said. "We actually had a state budget deficit coming into this year, on top of the uncertainty from the federal government. I was able to obtain some additional support in the state budget for an apprentice training program for manufacturers in the area. We were able to do a grant for some skills training for some inner-city residents in Syracuse.”
But Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco said policy issues bogged down the budget process.
“I don’t think it went well quite frankly and the result was not as good as it could be,” DeFrancisco said.
DeFrancisco,who is the deputy majority leader of the state senate, describes the budget as a political document with the purpose of advancing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s progressive agenda.
“What bothers me is that we’re not acting, in my mind, in a long-term mode that would show what the effects are of what things we’re doing today and how it’s going to affect tomorrow, like the so-called free college tuition, it’s going to cost more,” DeFrancisco said.
More, he said, in spending on professors, college buildings, and tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for higher-income families.
"You just don't do something for a political reason, you do it because it is the right thing to do and it's affordable," DeFrancisco said.
Current state law only allows residents in towns and villages to vote to combine or dissolve their local government. But the Consensus CNY Commission on government consolidation wants that law changed to include cities and counties. Consensus is pushing for a petition process so residents can vote on merging the governments of Syracuse and Onondaga County. DeFrancisco said he is leaning towards keeping the law the way it is but says he could be convinced otherwise.
"Many don't want a referendum because they are concerned that the savings are not as great as anticipated," DeFrancsico said. "It is almost as if there is a group that says we have to have a referendum, we have to consolidate and we're going to someway, by hook or by crook, make it happen."
The Onondaga County Legislature and the city of Syracuse both said they will not vote on a merger this year although the legislature is studying the other Consensus recommendations. Passed in the recent state budget is a requirement for county executives to meet with local governments to try and find savings. Local governments are not mandated to accept the recommendations but must say why they reject them.