Editorial: All must share pain to address budget shortfall

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

After a handful of do-nothing public sessions, Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders resorted once again to closed-door meetings to find ways to close the state’s $3.2 billion budget deficit.

That’s hardly news — that’s modus operandi for Albany, where secretive government rules.

But it would be nice to be a fly on the wall of these meetings, so we can see how these leaders come to the difficult budget-cutting decisions that must be made before New York runs out of money, an unsavory scenario that played out in California this fall, as the state issued IOUs to its vendors.

If we were allowed in those closed sessions, we would probably see how much our leaders are influenced not by the public, but by the special interests that drive much of Albany policy, including the powerful unions.

Many of us have struggled in the lengthy economic downturn, losing jobs, getting no raises or working fewer hours. So we do the only logical thing we can: We cut back.

But that logic doesn’t hold true for the people assailing some of the governor’s proposals for cuts, which include mid-year reductions to schools. District administrators and school boards, as well as the powerful teachers unions, are not surprisingly opposed to the proposed reductions.

That’s because they’ll force difficult decisions for districts, like demanding union members pick up more of the costs for pensions and health care, benefits few private employers can match.

Consider 70 percent of school aid for districts goes to salaries and benefits. Similar benefits can be seen in state government and in many local municipalities as well.

Of course, most of this is underwritten by taxpayers, who are continually being asked by their companies to pay more of the cost of their watered-down health care plans, coupled with 401(k) retirement accounts that no longer include a contribution from their employer. Even modest concessions in benefits would go a long way to reducing government costs on the local and state level.

Some of the proposals proposed by Republicans, who are also involved in these closed-door sessions, merely trim around the edges, because like their Democratic counterparts, they’re opposed to cuts in education and health, whose lobbies are among the most influential in the capital.

Unshackle Upstate, a coalition representing more than 45,000 employers, has offered a list of spending cuts it believes would save the state $9.5 billion, including a 3-percent cut in state operations, a state worker furlough, consolidation of state agencies and holding school funding flat for 2010-11. Adopting just a few of the ideas would put the state on the path toward financial health.

Budget gimmickry won’t work this time, and more tax increases are out of the question. The cuts legislators must make must be far reaching, and just about every New Yorker will feel them one way or another.

Most of us are prepared for pain, but are the legislators and the powerful interests that still dominate policy in Albany?

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