State budgets, or town budgets, school budgets and the like are interesting documents, difficult to understand in the best of times, and cloudier in the tricks of the trade that are sometimes applied to make the numbers come up the way they are supposed to. There are the easy ones, like including funding in a budget for positions that you don’t intend to fill, leaving you with savings on the other end because you collected the taxes to balance the budget, but then you’re not spending for that salary or its benefits. There are the more obscure, artful deceptions, like when the first Cuomo administration sold the New York State Thruway to the State Thruway Authority, which paid for it by borrowing the money — because Authorities don’t have to go to the voters for a bond issue like the state government would have had to.
Then there are the rhetorical flourishes that obfuscate what’s really going on, like the currently much discussed (and about which this editorial writer railed in a previous week) Gap Elimination Adjustment. We have to bring it up again because this week’s state budget added another layer to it that is most comical.
So here it is, in a quick fashion. The state gives money to school districts as aid. Let’s say your district was awarded $1 million in aid (the actual number is much higher but let’s just keep it simple for the moment.) Then it applies its Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) — a twist that it devised to take some of that money back when the state budget had big holes in it a few years back. So it takes back, say, $200,000. It can’t just say, we’re giving you $800,000…no, it has to say it’s giving you a million, but then applying the GEA.
This year, everyone was making noise about eliminating the GEA, since the state has a surplus of $5 billion. But they can’t just take it away, they have to do it in yearly steps. Giving up that much in a lump makes them break out in hives.
Thus, now they’ve created another line called the Gap Elimination Adjustment Restoration to give you back some of what they originally gave you but took away. So using our simplified numbers, its as if, instead of just saying they’re giving you $900,000, they will say we’ve given you $1 million, then applied the Gap Elimination Adjustment of $200,000, then applied the Gap Elimination Adjustment Restoration of $100,000. You ask them about cuts in state aid and they’ll say, what? We gave you $1 million. It should have been called the Gap Elimination Adjustment Adjustment.
Off the record talks have been going on in town to restore the participation of the American Legion in the Memorial Day Parade. Parties appear confident that the differences that surfaced at the last town board meeting can be worked through and that Woodstock will again be able to enjoy its traditional parade, ceremony and that the Legion will host is annual barbecue. And that all parties may march and that free speech may be a hallmark of the freedom that the veterans fought to uphold.
And may we wish you all a happy holiday as we approach Easter and Passover, falling on the same weekend.