From Newsday on the New York State Budget
It was a good day for Long Island yesterday in Albany.
The state's three most powerful figures -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) -- reached agreement on a new $132.6-billion budget that builds on last year's outbreak of fiscal responsibility by reducing spending slightly while funding a bevy of worthy initiatives.
But Long Island first. Tucked into the new spending plan are some crucial provisions of benefit to residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties. One major item raises the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's debt ceiling, which will make it possible for the MTA to keep the Long Island Rail Road's massive East Side Access project going so that trains can eventually reach Grand Central Terminal.
Another big victory for Long Island: $108 million in accelerated funding to add a second LIRR track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. This will speed up the project and offer a host of benefits, including a faster ride to Manhattan by up to 10 minutes, more reverse commuting by rail, and big opportunities for transit-oriented economic development in Wyandanch and Ronkonkoma.
Also in the budget is authorization to install cameras at 100 additional intersections to photograph vehicles that run red lights -- cameras that many Long Islanders resent, but which probably deter dangerous driving and generate revenue. And the package includes approval to let Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. reorganize under bankruptcy protection, an important step toward what ought to be a statewide reevaluation of off-track betting and horse racing that takes account of changing technology and consumer preferences.
But this budget isn't just good for Long Island. For the second year in a row, overall spending is a bit lower than the year before. Excluding federal funds, it will grow less than 2 percent, an accomplishment given that Medicaid spending and aid to local schools, the two biggest items, will rise by 4 percent each. The new budget achieves this in part by continuing to cut spending on administration.
More good stuff: the budget creates a state gaming commission to regulate lotteries, horse racing, casinos and racinos. And it removes a requirement for the comptroller to audit in advance certain state contracts, something at least worth a try in the interests of efficiency. The budget even boosts state funding for community colleges by 7 percent, a worthy investment in the institutions that enable so many of New York's young to acquire the skills they will need to make a living. The move is also good for business, which always needs skilled workers.
The new budget isn't just frugal; it's also on time for the second year in a row. In Albany, that qualifies as remarkable. The only thing missing is a large allocation for smelling salts in case voters from Montauk to Buffalo faint dead away at this amazing accomplishment in a state capital once renowned for dysfunction.
If this keeps up, one can imagine a time when New Yorkers become spoiled by all this responsible behavior from their elected representatives, and come to expect it. Wouldn't that be a great problem to have?