It's Spring ... And New York State's Budget Is Late Again

IT doesn't seem to matter if it's the best of times or worst of times. New York State's budget is never on time.

On Friday, the state began its 10th straight fiscal year without a new budget. From the pace of negotiations, it appears the budget wouldn't be adopted until sometime this week - at the earliest.

It wasn't supposed to be this way in 1994. It's an election year for Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) and the Legislature, and after nine years of late budgets, the embarrassment of yet another one would seem an incentive.

Also, after several years of bad economic times that drove down tax revenues, things are looking up.

When Mr. Cuomo presented his 1994-95 budget in January, it called for $62.65 billion in spending. By mid-February, he said there would be an extra $110 million available. Not long after, fiscal experts for the Senate's Republican and Assembly's Democratic majorities estimated an extra $450 million or so on top of that.

``This should be an easy budget,'' state Comptroller H. Carl McCall said last week as he pressured Cuomo and legislators to get the budget done. ``The money is there, and there are no big issues that need to be resolved.''

But in New York, extra money isn't a guarantee for a timely budget.

After adopting budgets before the April 1 deadline in 1983 and 1984, Cuomo's first years in office, things started to slip even as the economy roared into the decade's boom years. Bad economic times had hit by 1990, and it showed as budget deliberations dragged on until May 19. A record for lateness came in 1991 - July 4.

The late budgets, coupled with the repeated use of fiscal gimmicks to balance them, have taken their toll. Wall Street dropped New York's credit rating to the nation's lowest. That means millions of dollars more in interest costs when the state borrows money.

This year, with even more money flowing into state coffers, the debate has stalled over how much should be devoted to tax cuts and new spending.

New York's government leaders face the nation's earliest budget deadline.

Most other states don't start their fiscal years for two or three more months. But proposals to push back the year's start have bogged down.

Comptroller McCall warned last week that ``New Yorkers have lost faith in government. They've lost confidence in their elected officials' ability to do what they were elected to do.''

He said adopting a state budget on time would have been one way to begin restoring confidence.

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