New York lawmakers completed the state's $132.6 billion budget with a day to spare, but that slapping sound you hear may not be high fives, so much as the slathering of sunscreen on each other's backs as they eye that Florida vacation. The budget is slightly down from last year's $133 billion.
This is the second consecutive year that lawmakers have produced an on-time budget, and given New York's history, that counts as a notable achievement, though it could also be described as doing the job for which they were hired. Not unwisely, lawmakers got some of the hardest work out of the way early:
Legislators reached agreements on education and health care funding last year, increasing both by 4 percent. That accounted for more than half the budget and covered a two-year period.
In December, lawmakers imposed a tax increase on millionaires.
A couple of weeks ago, pension, DNA database expansion and casino issues were settled.
That left lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with little to fight over. And, again, there was the specter of the Paterson formula to consider.
It was David A. Paterson who, a couple of years ago, effectively threatened lawmakers by forcing them to choose between embracing his ideas for spending cuts in an emergency extension bill -- used when state budgets don't get adopted on time -- or shutting the government down.
All of these factors come into play when evaluating this year's budget process. Cuomo's own no-nonsense style is also not to be taken for granted. A scheduled two-week break -- now under way -- and the need for lawmakers to return to the districts also, no doubt, were influential.
The budget was largely good to Western New York. First, an additional $2 million-plus was set aside for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. What this means is yet to be completely sorted out, but it will not replace the 25-cent fare increase that is worth $5.1 million in revenue and still necessary to balance the 2012-13 budget.
However, there should be a good chance that the funds can be used to restore routes that had been marked for reduction or elimination and to replenish strained capital budgets. The larger purpose should be to make sure these rate increases do not become cyclical.
The region also benefited from Albany's welcome, if belated, acknowledgment that Western New York was shortchanged $167 million for road and bridge repairs starting around 2008.
There was a curious back and forth by state officials as the State Department of Transportation acknowledged a mistake in the formula a few years ago, then said it didn't make a mistake but now seems to be making up for the mistake-nonmistake-mistake.
The new budget brings the allotment for the region to 10.33 percent this year, worth about $166 million for road and bridge projects yet to be announced. And a new pot of funds will add about $143 million for regional road projects to help make up for the lost funding two years ago.
The governor and legislative leaders signed a memorandum of understanding for a new statewide capital plan that lawmakers claim will prevent such DOT errors from happening again. It at least sets a precedent and could mean the restoration of a few thousand lost jobs over time.
Work remains to be done when lawmakers return from their break, including transportation projects and infrastructure improvements. They should also finish the law enforcement job they began when they expanded the DNA databank last month. That means enacting reforms that will help prevent wrongful convictions, such as that of Buffalo's Anthony Capozzi.
And they should get a start on the 2022 redistricting by approving a plan to create an independent commission that will focus on the public's interest, rather than the politicians'. Cuomo needs to push this now, understanding that, given the chance, lawmakers will put it off forever.