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New to the state budget process, two lawmakers air their impressions

WBFO File Photo

The state budget struggle in Albany is high political theater, with the legendary "three men in a room" fighting over where the money goes and what it all means to the future of New York. How was the experience for two new local lawmakers?

Sen. Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo) has Albany experience as secretary of state to Governor George Pataki, while Assembly member Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) had her first exposure to the process this year.

The budget put more money into public schools, started a system of free tuition in public higher education for most families and set the ground rules for ride-hailing outside of New York City. It was also a continuation of power the governor won years ago to put policy issues into the budget.

Jacobs said he had heard the stories about putting a budget together, but nothing had prepared him for being involved. He said it may be time to re-balance the process by taking some power away from the governor so some issues get real consideration, not just spending - like raise the age.

Credit Chris Caya WBFO News
Sen. Chris Jacobs (R-Buffalo)

"Criminal responsibility of 16- and 17-year-olds was put into the budget, consolidation of local governments, so-called free tuition, all these very, very complex things that needed to be fleshed out in a very short amount of time and I know the intent was to kind of hold the whole budget hostage to get these things passed," he said.

Wallace has read the Pataki v. Silver court case, which increased the governor's power, and agrees with Jacobs that legislators may want to amend the state Constitution to limit that gubernatorial power.

"It seems to give the governor a lot more control over the budget process and I think there is a renewed interest in exploring whether that continues to be an accurate statement of the law," Wallace said.

Wallace said even veterans of the process were unhappy about what was going on.

"I'm told by some of my colleagues this was one of the worst years they've experienced and they've been there for a very long time," she said. "So I suppose, in many ways, it was very frustrating and exhausting at times and frustrating at times, but in the end I think we did get a good budget in place. Like you said, I'm a lawyer. I'm used to being involved in difficult negotiations. This is probably at the higher level."

Credit Monica Wallace / Twitter.com
Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster)

Wallace likes some things in the budget, especially more money for public education, like the state schools she attended.

"I was able to attend college in general because SUNY was so affordable and then the same with law school," she said. "So I want those opportunities to be available for the next generation of young people and I think that this Excelsior Scholarship program, while it's not without its flaws, is something that at least we're paying more attention to making sure that education is affordable."

Both say the big Upstate/Downstate problem is that the two sides are not all that familiar with the other side's issues, whether it is affordable housing in New York City, or ride-hailing or taxes on energy for Upstate employers.

"We have significant taxes on our energy," said Jacobs. "I don't know if it impacts somebody who is living in a small apartment in New York as much as it impacts a major manufacturer up here who's trying to sustain itself and compete in a global economy. And if there is a 10 percent increase in electricity costs, what it does to that business."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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