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Editorial: Governor, legislators can’t backslide in their core duty

In the end, it wasn’t calamitous that Albany blew its budget deadline by more than a week. Since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s election in 2010, the budget has been on time (or only a few hours late) every year until now. No one is perfect.

Cuomo’s early record was important, following decades of dysfunction when budgets weren’t approved until as late as August – three months after school district budget votes and more than four months after the deadline. The Assembly approved the last budget bill Saturday, and the Senate followed suit Sunday night.

Even though the budget is late this year, New Yorkers needn’t worry – too much, anyway – as long as it doesn’t signal new waves of dysfunction.

But Cuomo and legislators needed to change their ways. The responsibility for the budget isn’t simply a matter of checking off an item on Albany’s to-do list; it’s the fundamental task of lawmakers and the governor. It’s their core duty. If there were legitimate differences of opinion that prevented an on-time budget – as opposed to aggravation or personal animus – that’s tolerable. But it could never absolve them of the responsibility to regroup, compromise and do the job. It needed to be finished.

For anyone who had forgotten, the consequences of a late budget flow to every agency that relies on state funding, including human service organizations and school districts. Regarding the latter, New York requires the vast majority of school districts to submit their budgets to public referendum each May.

That imposes on Albany the obligation to tell those districts how much state aid they will be receiving, and time was already growing short. This year’s school budget votes will be held in just over five weeks.

The longer these standoffs drag on, the worse they get. For the 20 consecutive years that state budgets were late, the drop-dead date was always in August, when school districts had to send out their tax bills. By then, though, it was too late to ensure that budgets were responsible and that school tax bills – always the highest of New York’s onerous property taxes – were in line with the rest of the budget.

Under such circumstances, the responsible course for school districts is to budget “cautiously,” as Cuomo advised last week. But the entire state of affairs was teetering on irresponsibility when Cuomo and the Legislature finally met their obligations.

No one forced these people to seek election; they chose this work. They need to be prepared to do their jobs every year.

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