Safely assured of a third term as governor of New York, George Pataki must tackle the state's worst fiscal mess in at least a dozen years.
Effective today, Albany's official tune on budget matters changes from "Don't Worry, Be Happy" to "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."
You wouldn't know it from the gubernatorial campaign commercials, but New York state is facing an enormous budget gap next year. By far the toughest challenge facing the winner of the Nov. 5 election will be to close that gap without derailing a still-wobbly state economy.
Imagine if construction crews had just bulldozed most of the Ground Zero wreckage a few blocks further down West Street - and then took this summer off. In effect, that's how Albany and City Hall responded when, in the wake of 9/11, the state and city budgets plunged into the fiscal equivalent of a 10-story-deep, debris-filled hole in the ground.
Consider the Gotham Corporation - a multibillion-dollar service conglomerate given up for dead in the mid-1970s and widely written off as an Old Economy dinosaur just a decade ago, only to emerge as one of the great turnaround stories of the 1990s.
In a single year, New York State's finances have been knocked out of kilter by a deep stock market slump, a national recession and an unprecedented terrorist attack aimed right at the heart of its tax base. The result, says Gov. Pataki, has been a loss of $7 billion in revenue.
As if New York's economy wasn't already stressed enough, there's a renewed push in the City Council for a local "living wage" law that could hinder the city's economic renewal while reducing job opportunities for the very people it is supposed to help.
The two New Yorks - city and state - were the nation's twin towers of public indebtedness long before the tragic events of Sept. 11 placed extraordinary new strains on their budgets.
Will the next mayor restore New York's battered, post-9/11 economy? The candidates' recovery plans don't inspire much confidence.
Most of Mark Green's answers come out of the 1930s. And while Michael Bloomberg seems to have learned a few lessons from the '90s, he's still reluctant to embrace the most growth-oriented elements of the Giuliani philosophy.