Tuesday, April 09, 2002

The 18-year old problem-child in Albany

The 18-year old problem-child in Albany
Many parents figure when their children go to college, they won't have to deal with as many problems with them since they're not at home. But what if you have an 18-year old that's got a problem and hasn't any indications of going away the following year?
Well, good parents sit down with their child, talk with him and try and work out the problem and find a solution. Bad parents ignore the child or just send them away anyway.

What do you do, though, when the 18-year old isn't really a child but an issue and the parents aren't really parents but are elected officials. Well, that's exactly the case with the New York State budget, which has never been passed on time for 18 years. What's wrong with our legislators that they can't address this and be responsible to our State, schools, non-profits and other constituencies that rely on state-support and funding?

I was privy to hear a range of reasons on Tuesday, April 9th, when I accompanied the Advocates for Public Policy committee with the New York Junior League to Albany, NY. Our mission was to meet with various representatives and address three bills that were important to us and our community partners. The New York Junior League works with 26 Community Partners-other non-profits that provide social services in New York City. We focus on four areas: family life skills, healthy foundations (for children, young mothers and families), cultural enrichment of youth (arts programs) and domestic violence (legal support, support with police stations, preventative and ongoing support).

The three bills the committee focused on and researched for this year were: "an on-time budget," "CPR training in secondary schools," and "broadening the definition of Family for Court access." The CPR bill was supported and financed by the American Red Cross and American Heart Association and would require CPR training to students in secondary schools. With the baby boomer generation aging and with more and more Americans becoming obese, this knowledge will become more and more important. For many years there have been various efforts to broaden the definition of family for domestic violence purposes so non-spouse live-in partners would have rights in family court as opposed to having to work through the harder criminal court guidelines in domestic abuse situations.

The larger, more unwieldy bill that was met with the most resistance was the proposal of passing a budget on time. One aide to Senator Assemblyman Herman Farrell Jr. (chairman of the Ways and Means) just replied, "I'm a jaded staffer" when queried as to when this might pass. He agreed the government should pass a budget on-time but when questioned if he thought passing any budget on-time or accepting the governor's proposed budget would be a bad idea he agreed. The issue became more complex. Many bills get passed very quickly at the end of the year because nothing can be passed until the budget is set. So many legislators leave bills for the last minute, so the voting is rushed and then will get through more quickly. (This way there's less time to debate.)

However, holding up passage of a new budget delays funding that can go to non-profits and schools that are reliant on these monies for their operation and existence. Especially in tougher economic times, when these organizations can rely less on corporate donations, funding from the state becomes vital. Without it, staff layoffs and elimination of programs begin to occur.

It also seemed as if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was the big bottleneck. There are bills related to passing the budget on time in both houses, but they never make it past Silver. The only hopeful meeting we encountered was with Michael Avella, first assistant counsel to the Majority New York State Senate, who suggested if the Assembly could pass a bill, and they have one that makes it through the Senate, then it could go to a Conference.

In any case, the day was a success in terms of a great learning experience. And I have to admit, based on the enthusiasm of the other women I traveled with, and their diligent work and follow-up skills, Wednesday, April 9th will not be the last they hear of us!