In the end we were able to put together a budget that focuses on progressive priorities, protects the most vulnerable and cuts spending in the process. Protecting school funding for at risk children, hastening the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, giving needy students better access to higher education, and restoring funds for child care and cancer screenings. These are all priorities many of us have advocated for and supported over the years and I’m glad to see our budget has not abandoned them.
But I am concerned with the revenue estimates that we are relying on because they’re beyond the realm of reality. At the same time, we have increased our budget reserve as a partial hedge against what I see as inevitable.
But none of us can be truly satisfied with this budget process, a process defined by a Governor who refused to negotiate a credible economic plan, one that requires both sides to come together and engage one another.
All the threatening, hostile and inflammatory comments do is escalate tensions rather than defuse them. You get the sense that even as the Senate and Assembly Leadership were trying to engage him, the Governor was too busy planning his response to even listen.
Had he demonstrated a willingness to work with the legislature, I would be able to walk away from this process with a measure of comfort, knowing our priorities might be protected. His abject refusal to negotiate shows a failure in leadership. Drawing a line in the sand and digging in your heels over a completely irresponsible tax cut is not leadership.
The Governor remains stubbornly delusional, and sadly, that’s been reflected in this budget process. His refusal to negotiate this most important of documents defined this budget process, defines his administration and should not be something to crow about in town hall meetings.
This is not the way to craft a budget that looks out for the best interests of everyone in this state. What happened to the days of sitting down and negotiating on our shared priorities?
Like property tax relief, for example. We’ve seen the average property tax burden rise a net 20 percent over the last two years and yet the Governor remains stubbornly delusional to this reality - choosing instead to try and cut income taxes that would disproportionately affect the wealthiest.
I don’t know how anyone, in good faith, could have supported his original plan to spend roughly a billion dollars in revenue we don’t have to give middle class families a check that would barely put a dent in their property tax bill while giving millionaires a tax break that would cover the average homeowners entire property tax bill for the year!
If we are going to honestly pursue any sort of tax cut, it needs to be in the form of relief from our most crushing and regressive tax – the property tax –and paired with a reliable revenue source, like a surcharge on the income of millionaires.
The School Funding Reform Act was meticulously crafted to send funding where it is needed most and focus on schools with high needs students regardless of their zip code. This budget seeks to remain true to that principle. Decreasing spending on education for at risk school children, while declaring yourself to be their champion completely defies reality.
This budget also protects our nursing homes from insolvency, delivers tax relief to the working poor families and provides funding to improve their access to legal redress.
Ultimately, it works to address the realities we face, instead of remaining stubbornly delusional to the plight of our most vulnerable. It protects those who have been hit hardest by this economy. It gives a fighting chance to those who were born without one.
And it’s not too late for the Governor, even at this 11th hour, to come to grips with this reality.
In order to solve the problems we face, one has to be willing to acknowledge the reality of them first. This is what leadership is about - solving problems, not declaring yourself a winner.
The only ones we should be declaring winners are the taxpayers. I believe this budget strives hard under difficult circumstances, to accomplish that. And for that reason, I will be voting yes.