Thursday, November 13, 2008

Budget Chaos

The governor unveiled his proposed budget cuts yesterday-and just couldn't find a dance partner anywhere. All of the state's legislative leaders-present and possibly future-remained mum; indicating that they'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming into any budget deal. As the NY Daily News tells us this morning, chaos lies ahead: "The hard part will be persuading a Legislature - deeply beholden to special interests - to put taxpayers first when they meet next Tuesday to deal with the budget crisis. The feeling around the Capitol on Wednesday ranged from nothing getting done next week to lawmakers doing just the bare minimum.
In other words, his chances are slim to none. "He might have reached too high. This could blow up in his face," one Senate Republican said. A top Democratic aide said getting just one of the governor's proposals through so quickly would be a heavy lift, let alone a slew of them.
Complicating matters is the chaos engulfing the Senate."

If the senate finds itself unable to make a leader before January-and who knows how the Padavan recount will end; his lead is now 502-the senior chamber will be unable to convene, let alone act: "Senate Republicans come into next week's session as a lame-duck majority and may simply decide to punt the problem to the Democrats come January. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are embroiled in infighting over who will lead the chamber beginning next year. The Assembly won't do anything if the Senate isn't onboard."

Even with the leadership resolved, however, the battle will be tough. Hank Sheinkoff lays this out clearly: "Veteran Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the governor must show he's prepared to stand firm. "The governor's job is to lead people through the crisis. The Legislature's job is to protect interests," Sheinkopf said. "They're going to have a clash, and the only way it gets solved is in the court of public opinion."

All of which makes Paterson's intransigence on collecting the tax from Indian cigarette retailers that much more puzzling. As we and others have made clear, there may be close to $1billion in revenue ripe for the taking, but Paterson isn't budging. If this fight's gonna be won in the court of public opinion, that the legislature certainly has one issue that it can hold up against the frugal Paterson. When things such as day care, and programs for youth and seniors are being cut, the governor will look pretty silly protecting the rights of buttleggers; a well placed PR campaign would be appropriate as well as effective about now.

If he fails to take properly bold action on this one issue, all of the editorial boostering of his fiscal probity will begin to ring false: "Meanwhile, the special interests who own the Legislature are marshaling to defeat Paterson's plans to cut billions from Medicaid and school spending. Certainly, any cuts that come out of the special legislative session he has called for next week will be due entirely to Paterson's having forced the issue. But don't count on much...Experience, creativity, energy and toughness are essential if Paterson is to be successful."