Editorial: Message to Albany -- cutting should start there
With lawmakers slated to return to Albany this week to deal with what the state budget director has officially termed a recession, we implore them to be deliberate, but judicious, in their efforts to put the brakes on spending.
Gov. David Paterson has summoned legislators back from their summer break to deal with a budget deficit he said will hit $26.2 billion in three years because of high state spending and declining revenues. To start, Paterson has frozen most hiring and has ordered an additional 7 percent cut in agency spending.
In addition, Paterson proposes cutting $630 million from the executive budget and also plans to ask lawmakers to approve another $600 million in cuts across all areas of the budget. That, he says, will help reduce the deficit.
There is no argument that lawmakers need to trim spending. Since 1982, the state budget has grown every year but one — 1996-97, when it decreased by 0.4 percent. Over the past quarter century, the state budget has risen from $25.6 billion to $121.7 billion — nearly a fivefold increase. Private enterprise with similar financial practices would have been out of business long ago.
Paterson initially said cuts to agencies shouldn’t hurt parks, state police, highway maintenance, or support for schools and hospitals. But there could be funding cuts to higher education, local hospitals and other programs as well as the leasing of state assets and services — such as the lottery — to private companies.
As state leaders go about making necessary cuts, here are some things to consider:
•Don’t balance the budget on the backs of the needy. Too often when spending is cut, social programs are the first to go, affecting the people who need help most.
•Look harder at administrative staffing. Paterson said he wasn’t planning layoffs, but they are possible if the Legislature doesn’t meet its cost-savings target. If that happens, Albany needs to take a close look at high-salaried paper jockeys whose positions might be consolidated or eliminated, rather than the rank-and-file who actually provide the public services. And the governor should lead by example and start this process by looking at his own staff.
•Eliminate perks. State cars, lush travel accounts and other freebies eliminated long ago by private business need to be scratched from the public pad.
•Get tough at the bargaining table. State taxpayers cannot afford to pay for plush benefits packages unheard-of in private industry. The day of the lucrative public contract must end, and state leaders need to fashion an operation that is fair to employee and employer — the people of New York state.
One final thought: If our lawmakers and other state officials are unable to get public finances in line, taxpayers should demand that a panel of corporate executives from private business and industry be appointed to examine spending practices. Cutting budgets never is easy, but businesses have survived because there are people willing and able to do it. That’s the kind of help state government should enlist since — historically — it has not shown the ability to adequately take care of New York’s business on its own.