A law that would enforce the collection of taxes on the sale of cigarettes by Indian-owned retailers was merely the beginning. Gov. David Paterson today unveiled a $121 billion budget proposal that plans to eliminate the state's $15 billion deficit over the course of the next two years through a hefty dose of cuts and creative taxation.
From the Democrat & Chronicle:
Paterson is calling for massive cuts to state education and health-care aid, an elimination of a property-tax rebate program for homeowners and 88 new taxes and fees.
Put a little more bluntly, with a bit of spleen, by the Buffalo News:
Aid to public schools will be cut by $700 million, state university tuition will rise, the STAR property tax rebates will be scrubbed, prison facilities will close and state workers who aren't laid off will get no pay raises under a budget plan Gov. David Paterson proposed this morning.
Cuts in school aid would total about $700 million, which has some education officials already worried that the loss will need to be offset by increases in local property taxes. Although their worry sounds more like a threat that we're sure to soon see manifested in television advertisements. You know the kind. We've seen them before. For example: Imagine something along the lines of a school playground at recess: the children, the glee, the games. Then, cut to a close-up of Paterson, overlaid with a sombre voice detailing some aspect or other of the budget proposal, followed by the post-apocalyptic image of an empty swing, rocking back and forth in the middle of the now empty playground. Or something like that.
Although, at least Paterson delivered his posion pill with an olive branch. Or so the Buffalo News would have it (note the language: make up for):
To make up for the cuts, Paterson proposes exempting schools from the state's expensive, union-backed Wicks Law … which drives up public facility construction costs … and new pension reforms to reduce local costs.
Wicks Law, a requirement for local governments to hire separate contractors for different aspects (plumbing, heating, electric) of the same public construction project, has been a frequent point of contention among municipalities across the state. The law was restructured some earlier this year.
What else should we expect? From the Buffalo News:
The Paterson budget raids an assortment of accounts that are not part of the state operating budget, increases taxes and fees by $4.1 billion, eliminates sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear purchases under $110, and places new sales taxes on everything from cable TV and satellite radio services to haircuts and massages.
A so-called obesity tax that would increase the levy on sugary, non-diet sodas to 18 percent per bottle is one of many "creative" taxes set up in the budget proposal. From the New York Times:
A tax on car rentals would rise to 6 percent from 5 percent. Taxes on beer and wine would more than double. Licensing fees would increase for private investigators, barbers, bail enforcement agents, home inspectors, notary publics and cosmetologists.
Taxes on gasoline, cable TV, satellite television and radio service, cigars, flavored malt beverages would also increase. And the cost of owning and operating a car would also increase significantly, with 16 fee increases for the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Mainstream media reports mostly give the impression of bracing for a blow from dad's leather belt. In the New York Times, we can read of the "austerity budget" that lays out a "painful plan"—you almost expect to hear the phrase: 'This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you,' as the blows rain down upon us. Paterson, we're told, better get ready for a "reckoning" with the state's workforce. The Democrat & Chronicle's much more inspid coverage shies away from such colorful language, opting for the "trim" this and "limit" that style of budget speak.
Tom Precious, with the Buffalo News, siphons a bit more powder into the gun barrel in his coverage, coloring Paterson something of a pirate who is "raiding" state accounts. Precious talks of Paterson "slapping" this group with cuts and "scrubbing" rebates for that one. Sure, there's no doubt that the governor is scrambling to squeeze revenue from any source possible. But a $15 billion deficit is no chink the armor. We're hammered and dented and our shin buckles have long since rusted away. Isn't it time to strip down and revisit the forge? Or do we keep clambering on, stabbing at the windmills?
Paterson speaks of "sacrifice," mostly on the part of "working New Yorkers." No surprise, then, that we read in the Times: "Unions were bracing for a battle."
In a joint statement, George Gresham, the president of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, and Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said “these are staggering cuts that would shatter New York’s health care infrastructure, severely threaten the ability of patients to get access to care, and cause serious harm to communities across the entire state.”
That doesn't sound good. Shattering the health care infrastructure! That's intense. That's colossal. Is it true? What about "education advocates" who are telling us that the $700 million in cuts to school aid "really" amounts to $2.5 billion. Aid was going to increase next year. So that increase should be figured into the loss... so goes the argument. Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, told Tom Precious that this is "the most dramatic cut in education in the history of New York." Is that true? I fear we will be hearing a lot more of this most and worst ever talk.
Of course, it's not all bad news.
The Paterson budget would raise $105 million by permitting the sale of wine in grocery stores. And he wants New Yorkers to gamble more: the state's Quick Draw lottery game, derided as Crack Draw by gambling opponents, would see restrictions relaxed for the kinds of places the games could be offered as well as the number of hours a day the machines could be run. And racetrack casinos could keep their doors open longer each day.
So, when you can no longer afford to buy a Coke and listen to your satellite radio while you're trout fishing—license fees are listed to go up—you can buy a box of wine or go gamble away your last few bucks at the local watering hole... you know, engage in some real civic activity... that is, If you can afford the booze.
Seriously though, this budget proposal is big news. One has to wonder, however, how far this will all go. In fact, the plethora of fee hikes, aid cuts and tax increases—not to mention the "attrition" of state workers—smacks of a clever bit of strategy. It's hard to believe that the flabbergasted media reaction was not anticipated. I'm no political schemer, but it's almost as if Paterson's crew had the idea to try every trick possible. Bombard the enemy with all that you've got, and one or two are sure to slip through the cracks, breach the walls. Cut everything that can be cut. Increase the cost of very specific products and services—say, haircuts sneakers and back massages. Vow to weed out hundreds of "needless" jobs. Oh, and the day before all this is announced, sign a law that will surely miff the state's Indian population... Do you follow? It's as if Paterson is trying to get everyone up in arms. That way, while all the bigger, louder special interest groups are making all the noise and dominating the media coverage, some of these cuts and hikes and freezes will go under the radar and actually get passed. Hmm.
Just a thought.