One of the most famous episodes of the old Star Trek TV series was “Mirror, Mirror,” in which the crew of the Enterprise found themselves in an alternative universe populated by their nasty lookalikes. The old DC comic books featured “Bizarro” characters who were the opposites of superheroes like Batman and Superman. Years later, Seinfeld visited a “bizarro universe” in which Elaine briefly hung out with a trio of guys who were kindly and considerate doppelgangers of the selfish Jerry and his boorish friends George and Kramer.
In the universe of state governments, New York’s bizarro counterpart may be the Commonwealth of Virginia. Both New York and Virginia, like most states, face growing budget gaps as a result of the financial crisis. Both have Democratic governors — David Paterson in New York and Timothy Kaine in Virginia. Beyond those similarities, however, they are in many ways striking opposites — especially when it comes to public management and finance.
For the state and every level of government in New York, the task of coping with the approaching fiscal meltdown will be complicated by laws and collective bargaining agreements designed to lock in generous compensation packages for unionized public employees. Complicating matters, the leader of the Empire State’s largest public employee unions claims he already has a no-layoff promise from the governor.
Virginia, by contrast, is a right-to-work state that prohibits collective bargaining with public employees (under a law signed in 1992 by then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat). Gov. Kaine’s proposals for closing a $2.5 billion gap reportedly include 570 layoffs and the postponement of a 2 percent raise for state workers, which was originally scheduled for the end of this year. Indeed, if things get bad enough, Kaine and the Legislature can kill next year’s scheduled raise, too — saving a total of $250 million. And in a tight fiscal pinch, local government leaders throughout Virginia will have the same flexibility as Kaine to balance the broad interest of their taxpayers against those of public employees.
In New York, some politicians (and, of course, labor unions) are already discussing how much taxes might be increased (although Paterson recently seemed to rule out a tax hike).
In Virginia, however, the only question so far appears to be whether the state will go ahead with planned tax cuts.
(Come to think of it, from a taxpayer’s standpoint, maybe it would be more accurate to think of New York as Bizarro Virginia.)
In other news this week, the Tax Foundation issued its annual ranking of business tax climates in the 50 states.
Virginia ranked 15th.
New York ranked 49th.