Gov. David Paterson has repeatedly been the bearer of bad news about the economy and the budget. Just last week at a leaders meeting Paterson dropped his latest bombshell: the news that the budget deficit could be $3 billion.
Paterson insists that his flagging poll numbers are a result of a simple case of shooting the messenger. According to Paterson, it’s not just his warnings of fiscal doom that have lost him cool points with the electorate, but also his get-tough approach to cutting spending.
That, however, is a message that a number of observers, including financial pundits and legislators, are finding tougher to swallow.
Because while Paterson has warned of the state’s budget gap, he has failed to present an actual plan to address it. Paterson stated that he wanted to the legislature back in Albany this fall for a special session to deal with the budget, but they dismissed the idea, wanting to see a more substantive plan before returning to Albany. They also want to be sure they know what sort of deficit they are dealing with. As Paterson noted, the $3 billion figure might turn out to be too high, or the gap could be even worse
Paterson and legislative leaders agreed to have their staffs meet to address the budget gap and to reach a consensus on what the gap will actually be. And today business leaders are meeting with Paterson and Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch to discuss their ideas for closing the gap and next year’s budget.
But as E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York Policy, recently pointed out in a NY Post editorial “California, Here We Come”, Paterson has had months to meet and formulate a plan. In fact, that is his job.
“Paterson keeps talking about the need for reductions, but has yet to publicly propose any,” wrote McMahon. “Instead, he’s been squandering precious time, claiming he would prefer to reach some budgetary consensus with the nation’s most discredited and dysfunctional Legislature.”
Some legislators complain that Paterson has been trying to blame them for delays in addressing the gap. They point out that by law legislators have very limited say over the budget, and they insist Paterson must present a plan for them to then react to.
McMahon puts it more plainly: “He has to lay something on them. He has to push for it and has to give them cover. He has to say it was hard but it had to be done.”
Paterson has said that he wants to make real cuts to spending instead of balancing the budget with rainy day funds, stimulus money, or by increasing revenue through taxes and fees. But McMahon wonders if Paterson can truly hope to accomplish such a feat without presenting a plan.
“The state legislature is the last place I would go if I wanted help cutting spending,” said McMahon.
McMahon fears that the budget cutting with be put off until the last minute, when, as happened this year, Paterson and the legislature will decide to raise fees and taxes to balance the budget instead of making the unpopular decision to cut spending in areas like health care and education.
Then there is Ravitch, the new kid in town. Some expected after Paterson tasked Ravitch with studying the state’s finances earlier this year, Ravitch would come out blazing with a nuanced plan to negotiate with legislators. But that has not happened. “I don’t know what Ravitch is going to change if the governor doesn’t put out a plan,” said McMahon.