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THE LATE STATE BUDGET

Just in case anyone was tempted to buy the politicians' line that a late state budget doesn't matter to New Yorkers, here are a few things that are not happening while the derelicts in Albany continue to ignore the budget, soon to be three months late:

Brownfield legislation: Once identified by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello as the issue most important to Buffalo, the effort to craft a law that will allow economic remediation of contaminated sites for future use is going nowhere. That hobbles the city's efforts to attract new industry.

Women's health: Although the Senate and Assembly are split on the issue of allowing religious organizations to refuse to provide insurance for birth control pills, the bills would also increase the number of New York women eligible for insurance-covered screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis. Also going nowhere.

Centers of excellence: Gov. George E. Pataki's proposal for four state centers of excellence, including one in Buffalo for bioinformatics, all depend on passage of the state budget. Planning for Buffalo's center is proceeding and, given the political importance of Western New York to Republicans and Democrats alike, the program may continue proceeding despite the lack of a budget. But who can tell? This program is potentially the most significant economic development in Western New York since the steel mills began closing, and Albany is playing fiscal footsie.

Niagara Falls: Although Pataki's plan to redevelop Niagara Falls is being funded through Empire State Development Corp.'s existing budget, it faces the same problem. If a prospective development suddenly needed funding, Sen. George Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, believes money could be provided through one of the state's series of temporary funding bills. But nothing can be taken for granted in a capital where tensions and animosities run high.

Railroad taxes: CSX recently filed suit to lower its property taxes in New York. It has a case that most observers believe it cannot lose, but both CSX and Norfolk Southern, the other Western New York freight carrier, prefer to resolve the matter in the Legislature rather than in court. New York taxpayers would likely prefer that, as well, since a political settlement will result in a smaller increase in local taxes and will be phased in over several years. It's the difference between bungee jumping and discovering the end of the hangman's rope. Albany's delinquency is leading us up the gallows steps.

There is more; plenty more. Each chamber is working on a package of bills to toughen New York's limp DWI laws. In the ditch. The same goes for efforts to ban smoking in restaurants statewide, to address spiraling car insurance costs and to reform the state's pointlessly oppressive Rockefeller drug laws.

And there is the expensive, statewide matter of school taxes. In about two months, school districts around New York will begin sending out bills and, absent a budget, most will end up overtaxing their residents. To be cautious, most districts calculate their tax levy based on the amount of state aid Pataki proposed in January, even though the Legislature routinely raises that figure by a substantial amount. But planning for less state aid necessarily means taking more from local taxpayers.

These would be the same taxpayers who don't care if the state's budget is late. It's an interesting theory - one that will be put to the test once lawmakers start picking taxpayers' pockets in furtherance of their divine right to twiddle their thumbs at someone else's expense.

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