Thursday, June 18, 2009

Coming Up Short

It's not only the state senate that's coming up short; the state also has its own shortfall when it comes to the revenue projected for balancing New York's out of whack budget. As City Room points out: "State tax revenue plunged 36 percent in May from the same period last year, according to a report Wednesday from the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, providing little indication of a hoped-for turnaround in the state’s economy...“The General Fund is at historically low levels,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. “The state needs to watch revenues and spending closely.”

What this means is that new revenues are going to be needed in order to insure that the budget stays balanced. As the NY Post reports: "The April and May shortfalls are from revenue projections made by Gov. Paterson's Budget Division in late March as the state adopted its new, record-high, $132 billion budget. DiNapoli said tax collections for June would be crucial, since substantial amounts of income and business taxes are normally paid at the end of the state's first budget quarter this month. Paterson warned last month that the new budget could already be out of balance by as much as $3 billion."

All of which means that the current government stalemate becomes even more crucial-the senate gridlock has real world consequences: "But amid all the absurdity, it can be easy to forget that real business does go on in Albany, and that the votes lawmakers take every day can mean the difference of tens of millions of dollars for local governments across the state."

And the smaller counties around the state really need the sales tax revenues that first must be authorized by the legislature: "The Assembly has passed dozens of bills in recent weeks that would allow counties to charge additional sales tax. But those bills have been bottled up in the Senate, which has not taken action on a single piece of legislation since June 8. “That’s the thing that I think is being missed by most people,” said Joanne M. Mahoney, county executive for Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse. “I don’t know if they realize this has very real consequences for us on the local level. This pays for our schools, our public safety. It’s $40 million for our budget.”

What this dramatizes is that the Abbot and Costello nature of the senate stalemate drama is no laughing matter for local folks who need to provide services-and even if the senate does figure out how to share power, additional funds must be found. Which means that little things like the unredeemed deposits that have been held up because of Judge Griesa's ruling; and the potential $140 million in wine license fees suddenly have even greater significance.

But first, we're going to need to solve the stalemate; and it's unlikely that the suggestion of Senator Espada that he's legally entitled to vote twice will prevail: "The stalemate has spawned some creative suggestions and legal theories. Senator Pedro Espada Jr., the other Democrat who sided with Republicans and was elected as the new Senate president in last week’s overthrow, said on Wednesday that the State Constitution allowed him to cast two votes in the case of a tie: one as senator, and one as acting lieutenant governor, who is empowered by the Constitution to cast a vote in the event of a tie. (Because the lieutenant governor’s office is vacant, that office’s powers fall to the Senate president.) The constitutional language in question is vague, and any such move would probably lead to litigation by Democrats. Mr. Espada also said that should the Democrats not return to the chamber on Thursday, his two votes, added to 30 votes from Republican senators, would be sufficient to provide the legal equivalent of a quorum. “We’re maintaining that if there are 31 members present, and ready to vote, those 31 members can ask for a tie-breaking vote to be cast,” Mr. Espada said."

Well, good luck with that. More likely a scenario is some kind of jerry-built temporary solution that gets the senate through the next few weeks-long enough to take care of the most important pending legislation. After that, a real compromise is needed as the state goes dialing for the dollars that it will need to remain solvent as revenues plummet.