EDITORIAL: New York’s real problem is weak leadership

| Media Coverage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York State has a revenue problem.

Upon hearing this, thousands of New Yorkers, including many home and business owners right here in Western New York, immediately came up with a simple solution: Stop spending so much money.

It’s not that the people who pay the taxes in New York are all brilliant when it comes to financing and budgeting. It’s just that many of them know full well what’s it like to struggle for enough revenue to sustain themselves and their households. Unlike the governor, they can’t just dip into a pool of money over here or a pocket of dollars over there to plug gaps in their own budgets.

When they don’t have enough revenue, millions of New York state residents have to add another source of income or cut expenses to make due.

Cuomo himself introduced a proposed state budget totaling $175.2 billion. Surely there’s a way for his administration, working with state lawmakers, to close a $2.3 billion funding gap.

The governor said last week that his office will need to revise his 2019-20 budget due to a dramatic decrease in state income tax revenue, $2.8 billion. Possible areas to cut include education, road and bridge maintenance and health care.

“At this point there is no doubt that the budget we put forward is not supported by the revenues,” Cuomo said at a state Capitol news conference. “It’s as serious as a heart attack.”

Not if the proper cuts are made.

Cuomo isn’t exactly reluctant when it comes to spending. Hardly a day goes by when his office doesn’t send out press releases to media statewide, announcing more spending on some new initiative or another.

This is the same administration that invested $750 million of state money in the SolarCity project in Buffalo, a much-ballyhooed project that Cuomo touted as a sign of economic upturn in Erie County — and one that has become more synonymous with graft and corruption than prosperity, after having been tied to a bid-rigging scheme that led to indictments and jail time for several of the players involved.

The Empire Center, an Albany think tank, released a report in May 2018 that took note of New York surpassing all other states with per-pupil elementary and secondary school spending of $22,366 per pupil as of 2016. The report noted that the Empire State spent 90 percent more than the U.S. average of $11,762, up from 86 percent above average in 2015. The education spending gap between New York and the national average has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, the Empire Center noted.

No one would argue with public investment in worthwhile causes like education and economic development. But in New York, where results have often lagged behind the amounts spent, it is reasonable for taxpayers to question overall state spending as well as the soundness of investments being made with their tax money.

Economic development is great and programs designed to help people fight addiction or increase their education or secure work are needed. In some cases, these and other programs would not be successful without direct support from the state government.

Still, to point to a decline in revenue as the main cause of a $2.8 billion budget gap, when the state’s overall budget is now in excess of $175 billion, is insulting to average New Yorkers who are forced to find creative ways to live within their means year after year.

New York doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a leadership problem. What it needs much more than new sources of income is leaders — a governor and legislators — who can make the tough decisions that are necessary to reduce costs now and over the long term.

© 2019 Lockport Union-Sun & Journal