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Spring 2001

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Building New York’s budget—and having fun in the process

by Kathryn Gallien

     Carole Chulick Stone ’69 knew early on that she wanted a business-oriented career. Looking at colleges in the 1960s, she found that Skidmore offered her the degree program she needed—and that was rather unusual. “At that time, business administration was not universally available to women,” she says. “I can still remember a lot of schools that would put ‘men only’ in parentheses next to the degree program.”

Carole Chulick Stone ’69 enjoys shepherding New York State’s huge, and contentious, budget each year.

     That sort of thinking is long ago and far away for Stone, who was appointed director of the New York State Division of the Budget by Governor George Pataki in June 2000, following a six-month stint as acting director. From her spacious office in Albany’s historic Capitol Building, she now commands a large organization (some 360 employees) with a daunting responsibility to develop and manage the state’s annual budget—$83.6 billion in the governor’s proposal for 2001-02.

     Skidmore had a solid reputation on Long Island, where Stone grew up, and her experience at the college bore it out. She loved going to a women’s college, and warmly remembers how professors like Alice Eaton in business and Edward Reagen in economics treated their students as budding professionals but also nurtured them with dinners in their homes. A heavy emphasis on economics in the business program started Stone down the path to government, by way of philosophy. “Once you start with Adam Smith and the economic philosophers,” she explains, “it’s a logical path to general philosophy, which then leads you into a lot of the issues government deals with”—the roles of the individual, the society, the government.

     When she graduated with a Skidmore degree in business administration, Stone found a job as budget analyst in the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. She later ventured into the private sector but soon returned to her real loves: government policy and issues.

     For Stone, “One of the fun things about Budget is that you can involve yourself in a lot of different program areas,” and her twenty-five years in the division have included stints in criminal justice, youth, and mental hygiene. In any area, budget officers are expected to bring to the table strong analytic, communication, and management skills. “You have to know how to question program experts, come to a conclusion about the best approach to a particular problem, and determine the most efficient way to finance that approach,” says Stone. “A lot of people think it’s about numbers,” she continues, “and it really isn’t. It’s about understanding problems, thinking about alternative solutions, converting those solutions to a resource requirement, and then looking at the cost-benefit. The numbers come in at the end.”

     New York State’s budget cycle is a lengthy process that starts in September along two tracks—analyzing agency budget requests on the one hand and, on the other, developing revenue projections in light of economic forecasts, tax policies, and other factors. The two tracks come together to build a “business-as-usual” budget, and only then do new programs come under discussion. Through the fall, Stone works with the governor, his staff, and program staff representing various interests to build an executive budget that the governor presents to the legislature in January. The governor’s spending initiatives, of course, are key. At peak times in budget development, Stone is in daily contact with him, in meetings and via phone hotline.

     The governor’s January budget presentation is followed by a thirty-day period open to amendments—when “everybody who is unhappy appears on your doorstep,” says Stone. In March Stone convenes a conference with legislative leaders and outside economists to find consensus on revenue projections, after which compromises can be worked out in the funding details. As debates and arguments drag on past the deadlines, working very long hours during this time is common—and ultimately effective. “When people are exhausted,” notes Stone, “they finally compromise.” Stone and her staff, on behalf of the governor, negotiate with Senate and Assembly leaders on virtually every detail in the budget—“and there are thousands of them,” she says. So, although the budget is prepared and presented on time, legislative approval, due April 1, is notoriously, perennially late. But, says Stone, that’s rarely problematic. “We have a process for enacting emergency spending bills to allow government to continue. In a worst-case scenario, if legislative approval didn’t come until August, there’d be trouble getting out school tax warrants.”

     Not to mention getting Stone out on vacation, which, she admits, can be tough. “Your life is very unpredictable. You never know when you can leave. It’s hard to make lunch dates or tell your husband when you’ll be home for dinner.” When she finally does get home, at least she can leave the financial chores behind. “My husband, Dan, does all of that,” Stone says cheerfully. “I don’t even balance my checkbook!”

     Ultimately, of course, Stone expects she will leave the office—for good. She’s a registered Independent voter who has served both Republican and Democratic governors and prides herself on “neutral competence,” but ever since her promotion to deputy director in 1995, she’s been a political appointee. Governor Pataki’s term is up in 2002, and two high-profile Democratic contenders have already thrown their hats in the gubernatorial ring. “I expect that a new governor would select his own budget director,” says Stone. What then? “I really haven’t thought about it,” she replies matter-of-factly. In any event, this appointment came at a good time, as daughter Elizabeth emptied the nest and headed off to college.

     One thing the future holds is the chance to watch her daughter’s own career unfold. And while Elizabeth’s enrollment at MIT may be indicative of how much has changed since Carole Chulick went looking for a business program, this apple may not have fallen far from the tree: Elizabeth is majoring in economics.

Part-time Scope writer Kathryn Gallien is a native and lifelong New Yorker.

 


© 2001 Skidmore College