ALBANY –- It’s always fun at the state Capitol when following the law makes news.
So goes a deal officials are trying to announce tonight that will see the Senate and Assembly start up public conference committees to iron out differences over the state budget.
The conference committees were not used the past two years when Democrats controlled both houses of the Senate. It was a lapse that the Senate GOP leader, Dean Skelos, regularly pointed out in noting how the Assembly and Senate failed to abide by their own budget reform law.
Now back in control of the Senate after two years out of power, Skelos is set to announce a deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to begin the conference committee process in mid-March, as called for by state law.
The conference committees have been criticized over the years for failing give authority to their rank-and-file members decide the big, burning issues of the budget. And, often, even the individual committees can’t agree on contentious issues -– thereby bumping the matters up to the “mother ship" committee whose membership includes the top leaders of the Legislature.
But the conference committee process does have its usefulness: the meetings can clarify – publicly – the thinking of the two houses over budget disputes. And, for those on-time budget watchers, the sessions do have a way of instilling some sort of discipline to try to get a budget done by the start of the fiscal year April 1.
The Senate and Assembly today announced what they were pushing to announce last night. Here's the release:
SKELOS ANDSILVER ANNOUNCE JOINT LEGISLATIVE BUDGET SCHEDULE
Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced an agreement on a joint legislative budget schedule that sets out deadlines the Legislature will adhere to in order to achieve an on-time budget for New York State.
“I am pleased that we are returning to the joint, public budget negotiation process that is set in law,” said Skelos. “This model resulted in passage of an on-time budget in 2008 and I’m hopeful it will help us enact a budget by April 1 that meets the fiscal challenges we face, and addresses the needs of the people.”
“The Legislature has already moved forward with an aggressive schedule of joint public hearings on the governor’s proposed budget. The schedule we are unveiling today provides a clear roadmap for the path we will take as a collective body to achieve a sound budget for New York State that recognizes the divergent needs of our communities and the fiscal reality of our state,” said Silver (D-Manhattan).
“This process provides for openness and transparency in budget discussions and will allow us to work together to deliver a budget that is on-time and is in the best interests of all New Yorkers,” said State Senator John D. DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse) Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“This schedule provides legislators and the public with an opportunity to actively participate in the very real decision-making process needed to restore our state to fiscal health. Our ultimate goal is to produce a sound, fiscally prudent, fair and equitable on-time budget,” said Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, Jr. (D-Manhattan) Chair of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The agreed-to legislative budget schedule for 2011 is as follows:
On or before:
February 28 Senate/Assembly Fiscal Committee Economic & Revenue Reports Released
February 28 Consensus Economic and Forecasting Conference
March 1 Revenue Consensus Report
March 15 Senate & Assembly Budget Actions
March 15 Joint Senate/Assembly Budget Conference Committees Commence
March 28 Final Report of Joint Conference Committees
March 28 - 31 Joint Legislative Budget Bills Taken Up by Senate & Assembly