This past week, the New York State Assembly passed, and the state Senate is contemplating, the state budget for the fiscal year that began… last Thursday.
At a time when the economy is reeling, and one would figure the need to cut back, the budget weighs in at $132 billion, up some $11 billion over last year, and $8 billion over the budget that Governor Paterson proposed. The State Assembly news release indicated that the budget “closes a projected a $17.65 billion General Fund gap by implementing $5.1 billion in necessary spending cuts, raising $5.2 billion in revenue, utilizing $1.1 in non-recurring revenues and maximizing $6.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars.”
I’m afraid to ask how there can be a $5.1 billion dollar cut if spending is up by $11 billion, and I’m not sure how ‘maximizing’ Federal aid differs from spending it.
Somewhere in New York is $5 billion in State spending that is absolutely wasteful and stupid, and the State leadership was finally able to kill it. But beyond that, it seems as if the State simply relied on Federal aid and tax increases to otherwise maintain the status quo. What happens a couple of years down the road, when the economy has recovered and the Federal government is no longer handing out aid?
Meanwhile, the budget legislation also modifies the state drug laws to favor rehabilitation instead of prison. The original Rockefeller laws from the 1970s were modified a few years ago to eliminate their supposed Draconian excesses, and it seemed to work: prison populations are down, and the streets are far safer now than 20 years ago. Yet the state Legislature is changing them now, and allocating additional funding for drug treatment alternatives.
So the state has money to preserve the sacred cow of education, and can drop the pile of nuisance taxes that were part of Governor Paterson’s original plan, but they can’t come up with a way to provide funding for the MTA and deter fare hikes and service cuts. (Perhaps the MTA was one of the stupid items that got cut.)
The distressing part of it is that there seems to be nothing that we as citizens can do to stop this madness. The state election laws effectively favor incumbents by making it very difficult for newcomers to run for office. Once in a while, someone makes it, gets sucked into the Albany machine, and turns into a Legislature droid.
And electing a new governor doesn’t seem to help, either. A while back, we elected Eliot Spitzer on his promise to clean up Albany. Within six months, he was in a pissing contest with Joe Bruno, leader of the State Senate. Governor Spitzer had a legitimate question: was Bruno using State travel privileges for political gain? But by pursuing the matter in a thoroughly inept manner, making it look as if he was using the State Police to spy on Bruno, Spitzer effectively shot himself in the foot. Needless to say, no actual cleanup occurred.
And then Spitzer really imploded when it turned out that he was seeing prostitutes, and he left office, leaving us Governor Paterson, who has been a singular model of ineptitude.
What can we do (besides move to New Jersey)?