Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barbecuing the Sacred Cows

While it is true that Dean Skelos' bipartisan template for state governance might be a breathe of fresh air up in Albany, if it isn't accompanied by courageous actions than it all amounts to the proverbial rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Dealing with the state's budget mess will take some strong medicine.

Some of this is dealt with in this morning's Albany column by the NY Daily News' Bill Hammond. Hammond dramatically underscores the current fiscal mess. In detailing the state budget's five "biggest lies," BH leaves the most significant for last:

"Lie No. 5: We don't have to cut school aid or health care.

The truth: It's unrealistic that these two programs, which account for more than half of state spending, should be treated as sacred cows. New York spends more than any other state on both public schools and Medicaid. That spending has grown substantially in recent years and, barring action by Albany, will keep going up next year. If Paterson took the drastic and unprecedented step of laying off 5,000 state workers, he would save about $400 million. But if he holds school aid and Medicaid flat - not truly cutting them, but stopping their growth - he saves $3.5 billion.
The truth is that lawmakers have no choice but to cut spending - and cut deeply. Politicians who say otherwise are either kidding themselves or lying to you."

The question here is, where are the leaders ready, willing, and able to confront this size and scope of government issue? And while we're at it, how about the patronage mills? Speaking of which, the following Op-Ed on ESDC and pork spending is certainly thought provoking: "WHEN news broke last Thursday that Gov. Paterson had spent $40,000 on a fancy rug for the governor's mansion in Albany, the media mocked him for spending on a luxury when the state faces a fiscal doomsday. Yet that 40K is peanuts. The real outrage of that day came from the governor's Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) - which handed out $7.3 million in "grants and loans" at one of its monthly board meetings."

Of course, ESDC isn't the only place to look at when it comes to government reform-the MTA also comes to mind; as do other public authorities that seem to be really unaccountable to the public that there supposed to serve. Then there's available revenue sources-such as Indian cigarette retailers-that are being ignored by the governor.

Our old friend Arthur Katz weighs in on this in the NY Post today: "The failure to enforce the law also costs the state substantial amounts in lost sales taxes - and reduces New York City's own excise-tax collection. The total revenue loss works out to more than a billion dollars a year."

So much can and should be done to address the state's fiscal mess. Crisis does create the conditions for dramatic changes in the way the state is both structured, as well as how it approaches its spending habits. In order for this kind of bold action to take place we're going to need leadership that aware of what's needed. All of which makes the current senate leadership stalemate that much more problematic.