AFTER WEEKS of accomplishing little, the State Legislature has closed with a rush, passing some good legislation in the process. But it would have taken a heroic finish to make up for the budget fiasco that dominated the early months of the session and remains the trademark of the 1990 Legislature.
There were no such heroics.
In a state with an infamous tradition of late budgets, the Legislature set the record by being 49 days late with the 1990-91 spending plan. The lateness cost local governments money, and it kept work from getting done on other legislation.
When it was finally completed, the budget contained a distressingly random selection of $1.4 billion in new taxes, deferred a promised income tax-rate reduction and bought future trouble by relying on about $1.5 billion in one-shot revenues. In general terms, it failed to address the high cost of state government.
No wonder both major bond-rating services reduced the state's standing in the course of the year.
Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders did work out a series of fiscal reforms that may help with future budgets.
They approved a spending cap that takes full effect in 1993. They agreed to a bond issue to end the annual spring borrowing, which cost taxpayers $209 million in interest this year.
They also created two commissions to seek out much needed savings and efficiencies in state government. So far, the commissions have not been appointed. Albany must move quickly so the two bodies can contribute proposals for next year's budget.
No reform of budget timing
Sadly, the Legislature did nothing to guarantee that future budgets will be passed before new fiscal years begin. Cuomo's proposal that he, the legislators and other top officials not get paid when budgets are late got nowhere. Without some tough consequences such as Cuomo proposed, the Legislature is free next year to try for a new lateness record.
There are sources of money lurking in the weeds that the Legislature did not tap. Cuomo wants the state to get the approximately $85 million yearly in unclaimed pop and beer bottle deposits, but the Legislature -- hearing the bottlers' lobby -- did not agree. State university tuition was kept at $1,350 a year, unchanged since 1983. It means taxpayers are subsidizing an ever-greater share of higher education costs, even for well-to-do students.
Especially in its last days, the Legislature did pass some good bills, but it also shunned many other important ones.
On the plus side were bills passed to do these things:
Allow competent adults to appoint relatives or friends as health-care proxies to make medical decisions for them if they become incompetent. Such legislation became essential after the first U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the right-to-die issue.
Set up a November referendum on a $1.975 billion environmental bond issue, including $800 million to purchase land for preservation, $300 million for recycling and $275 million to close landfills.
Increase workers' compensation benefits for employees injured on the job. New York's compensation rates had been unchanged since 1985.
Strengthen the ability of police to seize the assets of drug dealers. The bill, part of Cuomo's anti-crime package, enables officials to take cash or checks found at or near drug-crime scenes.
Revise health-care financing so that $420 million will be pumped into financially distressed hospitals. The same bill would start a low-cost health insurance plan for poor children.
Change the welfare program to include new educational and job training programs so that the state can take advantage of federal money in the 1988 Welfare Reform Act. New York has already lost as much as $10 million because of delays.
A long list of failures
On the minus side, the Legislature:
Failed to pass Cuomo's proposal on bias-related crime, which would have provided more severe punishments for assaults based on race, beliefs, gender or sexual preference.
Was unable to enact either the death penalty or a life-without-parole bill.
Joined Cuomo in taking no action on any of the 245 recommendations of the governor's special commission on preserving the Adirondacks.
Failed to pass Cuomo's bill controlling ownership and transport of firearms designed for military use.
Declined to provide Buffalo with a $23 million revolving loan to make Hurd-case overtaxation refunds.
Failed to pass political campaign reform measures proposed by the State Commission on Government Integrity.
Saw the Senate scuttle comprehensive legislation on toxic chemical spills proposed by Attorney General Robert Abrams.
Failed to pass a bill by Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, which would have created a new care category called "assisted living" to bridge the gap between skilled nursing homes and limited adult care facilities.