Kevin Frisch: Deficit attention disorder
I don’t know how much money it will save, but New York Gov. David Paterson’s proposed $2.6 billion in spending cuts will provide endless amusement as special interest types and elected officials attempt to feign fiscal concern while avoiding the budget ax themselves.
It will be a difficult balancing act — particularly for state lawmakers, all of whom will ask voters to return them to office this November.
Paterson has laid out $1 billion in what he calls “budget savings” for the current fiscal year; another $1.6 billion for 2009-10. He has called legislators back into session this week and asked them to sign off on at least $600 million of his $1 billion in cuts. The goal is to reduce next year’s estimated $6.4 billion deficit. (That’s right, “reduce,” not “eliminate.” The measures would diminish the deficit an estimated 40 percent, to about $3.7 billion.)
Almost everyone agrees the cuts are needed. And, believe it not, everyone agrees where: “Elsewhere.”
PATERSON’S PROPOSAL: Cut some $505 million in Medicaid funding, including $169.4 million from nursing homes and $99.4 million from hospitals.
RESPONSES: The Greater New York Hospital Association and the Service Employees International Union, which represents health care workers, described the cuts as “staggering” and warned they “would devastate New York’s health care infrastructure and severely threaten access to care,” according to The Associated Press.
“In just a few short weeks we have gone from suggestions of shared sacrifice to making hospitals and nursing homes into sacrificial lambs,” added William Van Slyke, vice president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.
The Home Care Association of New York accused Paterson of trying to balance the budget “on the backs of seniors and disabled New Yorkers.”
An even better quote from an Albany Times-Union story, from Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association: “Half of the money comes out of health care. What happens to education?”
It’s in there, Mr. Raske ...
PATERSON’S PROPOSAL: Cut $51 million from the City University of New York.
RESPONSE: The New York State United Teachers union said the cut is “inconceivable” and would devastate higher education.
PATERSON’S PROPOSAL: Reduce local assistance spending — that is, money sent to individual municipalities — by $250 million.
RESPONSE: “We support proactive budget-balancing by the state, but not at the expense of municipal property taxpayers,” said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors. He said the plan “would force municipal property taxes even higher.”
PATERSON’S PROPOSAL: A 50 percent cut to pork barrel projects, which would save a total of $100 million.
RESPONSES: “Legislative leaders were noncommittal Monday to Paterson’s plan to cut ... pork barrel spending,” reported the Associated Press.
Not everyone picked and chose among Paterson’s offerings. The Civil Service Employees union didn’t like any of them. CSEA President Danny Donohue called the proposals “nothing short of an all-out assault on public services and taxpayers throughout New York state. ... CSEA will not stand by and see our communities undermined.”
Which means New Yorkers will likely soon be hearing Donohue’s dulcet tones in radio ads denouncing Paterson’s proposals. Another group, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, has already taken to the airwaves. Its suggestion: “Raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.”
There’s support for that sentiment. Voters approve increasing the income tax on millionaires by a margin of 78 percent to 18 percent, according to a poll released this month by Quinnipiac University.
With special interests circling their particular wagons and lawmakers casting a wary eye at the election calendar, Paterson’s powers of persuasion will be put to the test.
“The governor is right that they need to act now, that the deficit is only going to get worse,” E.J. McMahon of the conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy told Newsday. “But there will be big resistance in the Legislature, particularly in the Assembly.”
We’ve always had unseemly deficits in New York. Finally, we have a governor who is paying attention to them. What we need now are legislators who have the foresight and backbone to follow suit.
Kevin Frisch is managing editor of the Daily Messenger, which circulates in Ontario County and parts of Wayne and Yates counties. Contact him at (585) 394-0770/Ext. 257 or by e-mail at email@example.com.