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NY Voters Reject Budget Power for Legislature, OK Bond Act

Wed November 30, 2005 - Northeast Edition
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ALBANY, NY (AP) Voters on Nov. 8 rejected the Legislature’s bid to take control of drafting state budgets, but authorized Albany to borrow $2.9 billion over 30 years to fix and build highways, bridges, tunnels and subways.

The ballot measure that would have shifted the balance of budget-writing power was defeated, while the transportation bond act was approved.

Voter Talbert Turner, of Schenectady, was one of those voters who rejected the Legislature’s budget reform while endorsing borrowing for long-term capital projects.

“I wouldn’t give it to them,” said Turner said of lawmakers seeking more budget power at the expense of the governor’s authority. The measure was opposed by current Gov. George E. Pataki, two of his predecessors and many of the candidates trying to become governor in 2006.

“It would be too many people to try to keep an eye on,” said Turner. “I think they’ll spend money. Not to say that Pataki won’t, but we can hold him accountable.”

But Turner, who takes the bus daily to work these days, favored the transportation bond issue in part because it could lead to more buses and routes.

“A half hour wait instead of an hour? Is that too much to ask?” Turner said, on his way to the bus stop to vote.

Under Proposition 1, the Legislature would have gained control of crafting the state budget, to which nearly every program in state government is tied. The governor would lose the upper hand now provided for in the constitution.

Those who opposed the proposal to change the state’s constitution said voters sent a clear message to Albany.

“This is the most important initiative I’ve seen in my entire time in politics,” said Pataki. He said voters sent a strong message to businesses that hope to join or expand in New York. “We are not going to give the Legislature control over the purse strings.”

E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, called the vote “a stinging repudiation of state legislative leaders, and a huge victory for taxpayers.”

State Business Council Spokesman Matthew Maguire said it was clear “that the people are fed up with Albany and want real reform in the system.”

The peddlers of the pig that personified the opposition, the Stop the Pork organization of fiscal conservatives, said its effort overcame a huge funding deficit to supporters that included some of the state’s largest labor unions.

“This is a victory of New Yorkers over the entrenched Legislature and the special interests they represent,” said Marshall Stocker, a spokesman of Stop the Pork. The group hauled a huge pink pig statue around the state to symbolize the Legislature’s spending appetite.

As of Nov. 8’s filings with the state Board of Elections, supporters of the proposition spent $1.28 million on an advertising blitz. That compares with $355,000 spent by Stop the Pork and the state Business Council.

The measure was defeated soundly upstate and on Long Island, while the vote was close and split in New York City with Manhattan voters favoring the proposition by a narrow margin.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno in a prepared statement. “We will move forward from this decision and continue to work for budget reform.”

Supporters of the proposal called it budget reform because they said it would have ended what had become a tradition of late budgets. Several elements of the proposition that had wide support can now be acted upon separately, including beginning the fiscal year a month later on May 1 and creating two-year funding cycles for school aid.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver didn’t respond to requests for comment.

With approval of Proposition 2, New Yorkers will see the results in the coming construction season. The transportation bond act will provide funding to current and planned highway and bridge projects statewide and to subway and tunnel projects in New York City.

“This is important not just because it will rebuild roads and the economy, but because it shows people are willing to invest in their public infrastructure if they know how it will be spent,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat. “Our job was to remind people they can trust their government.”

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