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"Something else": New Yorkers' solution to the current state budget crisis

By Philip Anselmo

For those of us who didn't wake up to two feet of snow this morning, our news channels and radio waves likely included a bit on the ongoing scuffle in Albany over the state budget. Everyday, this brouhaha over the budget resembles more and more the raucous cloud of dust that signals a barroom brawl in a Warner Bros. cartoon. If you look closely enough, you can see a foot or a black eye or a projectile mug—but we won't know anything about the winners and the losers until the dust settles, and by then, it will already be time for another skit.

Nor do we, the people of New York, even know who we're rooting for.

From the Albany Times Union:

It seems that New York's legislative leaders really do reflect the views of their constituents, according to the latest Siena Research Institute poll.

The poll, released Monday, found that 75 percent of registered voters want spending cuts instead of tax increases (which are favored by 10 percent) or borrowing (9 percent) to address the state's budget gap.

But when asked what they want to cut, voters won't get specific: 44 percent opted for "something else" when offered a list that also included health care (6 percent), education (7 percent), transportation and infrastructure (18 percent) and aid to local governments (23 percent).

Health care and education are the biggest components of the state budget, with local aid coming in third. Localities, of course, often choose to make up the shortfall that results from state cuts with increases to property taxes.

"Something else"—isn't it always something else? Didn't the pollsters know what they were doing when they included "something else" as an option? Didn't they know that people would invariably opt for the intangible unknown for the very reason that it can't be specified and therefore isn't much of a threat?

Well, members of some groups that have already been named as potential losers under the cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson have some ideas about what that something else could be. And why wouldn't they? Something else, for them, necessarily implies something other than themselves.

From the WXXI newsroom:

Groups who would suffer the most from the $2 billion dollars in cutbacks that Governor Paterson has proposed are urging the legislature to consider alternatives, before saying yes to the governor's ideas. In interviews, and at a series of hearings by the Assembly, they listed a number of options that they say the governor has so far ignored.

State worker unions, who met with the governor a few weeks ago, say they offered numerous suggestions, which did not become part of Paterson's proposals. Ken Brynion, President of the Public Employees Federation, says the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating private contractors, and letting state workers perform the tasks, like inspecting bridges, promoting tourism, or offering IT advice.

"It's a complete waste of money," Brynion said.


Other ideas include revamping the state's costly economic development programs. Critics have long contended that companies do not have to prove they actually create jobs with the funds from Empire Zones or Industrial Development Agencies. Many have mentioned enforcing laws that require the collection of sales tax on cigarettes sold on Indian lands.

Fran Turner, with the state worker union CSEA, joins others in saying that perhaps personal income taxes should be restructured to extract more money from the state's wealthiest.

Meanwhile, back at the capitol, while busloads of protestors unload to decry the potential cuts, things took a turn for the anticlimactic.

From the Times Union:

As of Monday evening, it seemed likely today's session will result in very little progress. In a 9 p.m. press conference from the Red Room, Paterson announced that he would meet with legislative leaders at 12:30 p.m. today to discuss the immediate future of his proposed cuts.

Earlier in the evening, Senate Republicans had said the chamber would vote on Paterson's proposals, designed to close an expected $1.5 billion gap brought on by the collapse of Wall Street, but they are almost certain to turn it down.

So where to next? What's your something else?

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