State legislators push for Budget Equity Act


New York State Sens. Alexandra Biaggi, James Skoufis and Jose Rivera along with several other state legislators spoke at a virtual press conference regarding an amendment to the state constitution. This amendment aims “To demand a fair and transparent budget process for the state and people of New York” said Biaggi. 

The amendment, called the Budget Equity Act (S8198A/A9100), would allow the legislature to play an equal role with the Governor in creating the budget. 

According to Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, the legislature currently cannot modify any item on the budget, despite the fact that they can add and subtract. He added that in his eyes this inequity has nothing to do with any specific political party, a sentiment that was backed by the other legislators. “It’s not good wherever you sit,” said Senator Liz Krueger.

Senator Skoufis stated, “The way the budget is structured now…it is akin to showing up with a knife fight with a slingshot.” He went on to compare New York’s current system to that of other states, saying,  “We are in New York, the most imbalanced when it comes to budget,” and, “there is very little if anything we as a state legislature can do about it [the budget] constitutionally.” 

In 2001 the public voted down an amendment with a similar aim, but according to Skoufis public demand for legislative action has increased the will behind amending the constitution.

Community organizations, including Empire State Indivisible, spoke about the issues that the lack of legislative say in the budge caused them. Make the Road New York’s Theo Oshiro described the issues his organization faced, citing this year’s budget’s inclusion of “cuts to our healthcare system, cuts to badly needed systems, and failure to cancel rent,” actions that disproportionately affect working-class people and people of color.

“We need to fund the vital services that can lead us to our recovery,” said Adolfo Abreu of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Organization.

Assembly member Jose Rivera backed this, remarking that during Covid-19, “What did the governor choose to do? He chose to cut Medicaid.” He added that, “We did not have the ability to push back in a real way on the Governor’s cut of Medicaid.”

Assembly member Jake Ashbey reiterated the point, asking “How are we supposed to do that effectively if we have no seat at this table, if we are unable to make their [our constituents] voices be heard?”

The Budget Equity Act must be approved by the legislature twice before it can go to a public ballot, but the goal of the officials present was to see it on the fall 2021 ballot. If passed by the voters, the legislature would yield more power in the making of the 2021-22 budget. 

Senator Krueger finished off saying, “We don’t make this decision, you, the public, will make this decision… so this is a major educational process we’re starting.”