Policymaking through the New York State Budget

by Jay Wu

Passing bills isn’t the only way to influence state priorities. Every year, New York State passes a budget that establishes what government activities will be funded, and where that money will come from. Substantive policy proposals are often included in the annual budget as a way to circumvent the more deliberative legislative process. The formal cycle begins with the governor-appointed Budget Director issues a “call letter” to agency heads to communicate priorities and constraints. Throughout the fall, each agency assemble and discuss their program package. By early December, they complete their preliminary recommendations and present them to the Governor, so that she can introduce a budget for the fiscal year by February 1.

Throughout this process, the majority of legislature members have limited influence compared to the Executive Branch. Historically, the budget process has been referred to by critics as “Three Men in a Room,” with the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Majority Leader of the Senate holding closed door meetings to decide the state budget with negligible influence from the public and their representatives. While the actors today are no longer all men, critics of this process say the sentiment remains.

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