I've liked Gov. David Paterson since the first time I saw him. He's erudite, knows his facts, and he's got a sense of humor and a capacity for reason that about every other politician in the state, and many across the country, lacks to a fault. I'm not well versed enough in the political scene to get much more into my appreciation than that. That is, I can't say with any real authority if he's doing well or poorly at his job, though I would cautiously lean towards the former.
Now that the news is out that the state accrued another $1.4 billion in debt over the past 90 days, he's calling our legislators back to work. How could the state be $1.4 billion in debt? City Council President Charlie Mallow alluded to it some the other day, in a comment appended to our initial story about the impending fiscal crisis, when he said that there are simply far too many special interest groups hankering after a piece of the pie. What looms is a question that ought to have been asked a long time ago in this state: What are we spending our tax money on... really?
Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, told WBTA's Dan Fischer that the state need to perform more regular audits. Sounds good to me. Let's find out the gritty details of what money is going where.
Here are some details from Paterson's address last night, courtesy of the Buffalo News:
The state’s projected deficit for next year has swollen by another $1.4 billion in the last 90 days, Gov. David A. Paterson warned Tuesday during a statewide television address in which he summoned the State Legislature back next month for a rare, midsummer special session.
He issued the call for greater fiscal discipline just three months after he approved the current state budget, which provides for raising spending at twice the rate of inflation projected by state officials.
“New York’s families are already making the tough choices — New Yorkers are prioritizing spending every day,” Paterson said Tuesday in the five-minute address. “Now, your government is going to follow your lead. We are going to end legislative vacations and bring them back to Albany to reprioritize the way we manage New York State’s finances.”
So, he can talk a good game. But what now? What happens now?
Paterson did not offer specific ideas for controlling spending. Whether he will make such proposals before the Legislature returns Aug. 19 remained uncertain.
How aggressively the Legislature will cut spending also remained unclear. The special session will meet less than three months before all members are up for reelection.
If Paterson hoped legislative leaders would rush to his side to make serious cuts in the current budget, Tuesday evening must have been a disappointment.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat like the governor, went so far as to draw up a list of programs — the biggest items in the state budget — that should not be cut. It included education and health care, which, together, account for 63 percent of the budget.
First, I would be interested in knowing what accounts for the other 37 percent of the budget. Second, I would like to see how the education and health care funds are allocated.
The governor made no mention of education or health care. Nor did he discuss the state’s ballooning debt levels and other rapidly rising costs, such as pension and health care benefits for state workers.
The state’s worsening fiscal problems are twofold: spending that has risen 45 percent over five years to $122 billion in this year’s budget and a softening economy that is evaporating tax revenue to pay for these costly programs.
Despite the gloom, Paterson did not say whether he would consider layoffs or a hiring freeze. Under the current budget, the state work force is projected to add 1,400 positions to 201,000 workers.
But he did say that, in coming weeks, he will look at the size of the work force, which immediately raised red flags among some state worker unions.
Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, the state government’s biggest union, called any talk of trimming the work force “a sham.”
“We will not stand by for knee-jerk political solutions that diminish our quality of life and create more misery,” said Donohue, whose union has major leverage with legislators, especially in an election year.
For the full story, see the article by Tom Precious.