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Editorials: Upstate Focus -- stopping the plates

Today's editorial is one among several published by newspapers across upstate New York today, on the inaction by the State Legislature as it supposedly confronts a ballooning deficit. We see the citizen push to stop the mandatory purchase of new license plates as a message to lawmakers that fees and taxes aren't acceptable as solutions -- and, once again, call on lawmakers to get serious about spending cuts.

Upstate Focus asks newspapers to reach their own conclusions independently, but then to publish an editorial on an agreed-upon topic on a specific day. Here's what the project's newspapers are saying today:


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

 

Take charge N.Y.

Insist that state lawmakers clean up fiscal mess.

 

What unmitigated gall!


Though New York is on the brink of fiscal collapse, state lawmakers summoned to a special session in Albany seem to prefer playing a game of bluff with the governor
and one another.

 

New Yorkers must take charge. Just as more than 100,000 citizens signed petitions to force state lawmakers to rethink a $25 increase on license plates, they must now
make their voices heard on closing the $3.2 billion mid-year state budget deficit.

 

Though Gov. David Paterson has called for a special session three times in the
past nine days, lawmakers continue to dither. With no regard for the fact that the
state could soon run out of money, majority Democrats in the Senate and Assembly
have refused to act on Pater
son’s deficit reduction plan or one of their own.

 

True, some Senate Democrats have proposed going after uncollected cigarette
taxes on Indian reservations as a solution. But success with that option is unlikely
anytime soon. The state needs to close its ever-grow
ing deficit now.

 

Can’t lawmakers hear the steady creep of red ink that’s already flooding such states
as California, which had to is
sue IOUs because it ran out of cash. To fix their budget
woes, lawmakers in the Golden State are constrained by several voter imposed restrictions, including require
ments that all budgets and tax increases pass the legislature by a two-thirds majority.

 

What’s New York lawmakers’ excuse? They don’t have the stomachs for politically unpalatable but necessary cuts that Paterson wants in health and school aid. Just
wait until the forced shutdown of services such as li
braries and parks.

 

So at a cost to taxpayers of $35,000 a day, lawmakers are sitting around Albany doing
essentially nothing. Contact your legislators and insist that they get New York out of
this fiscal mess. Now!

 

The Buffalo News:

Stopping the plates

As Albany dithers, citizens protest with a clear message on taxes and fees

Consider it a warning shot. For many people who think there's no use in complaining to Albany about tax and fee increases because it falls on deaf ears, the fact that protests triggered enough bipartisan lawmaker reaction to threaten a $25 new license plate requirement should be as worrisome to the Legislature as it should be encouraging to citizens.

The Legislature supposedly is meeting in special session these days to deal with a budget crisis. What it's actually doing is dithering, while nibbling away on the legislative fringes by moving bills that look like activity but should have been dealt with in the regular session.

The broader issue of the ballooning state deficit, now at $3.2 billion, should be addressed immediately by state-level belt tightening. No new fees and no new taxes.

Call it an epiphany or call it political clout but when elected officials, including the governor, tuned into the disharmony voiced by taxpayers and county clerks on the issue of having to pay $25 for new license plates after April 1, the message got through loud and clear. New Yorkers have had enough.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, sent out a rare joint statement stating that the Assembly agreed to act to repeal the requirement. Senate Republicans, many of whom represent upstate motorists who commute to work and need vehicles to get around their respective towns, villages and cities, already had been pushing -- without much effect, until taxpayers weighed in.

Gov. David A. Paterson, who has been vocal about running for re-election, was willing to back away from the new license plates, but he raised a valid point about the need to find budget cuts to replace the license plate revenues -- an anticipated $129 million from vehicle owners.

And there's the rub. So far, the Legislature has failed utterly to muster the political will to make hard choices.

Nearly every American, whatever his or her individual financial status, has learned to cut back during the worst recession since the 1930s. And now America is going through a jobless economic recovery, with an unemployment rate hovering just above 10 percent. Dodging tough choices has not been an option, anywhere else.

For individuals, the proposed $25 license plate fee, immediate and real, may have been the straw that broke the camel's back -- and triggered outrage, where the billions of dollars in remote and seemingly abstract deficits could not.

Paterson says he now plans to eliminate the license plate requirement, on the important condition that lawmakers and others find other ways to make up for the loss of anticipated revenues before he releases his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1.

Those lawmakers have not, so far, shown many signs of doing so -- other than considering even more taxes and fees. The special session so far has been a sham. There is real and serious work left undone.

If it remains undone, one of two things will happen: New York's deficits will soar past the $10 billion mark, or the state will add to its already onerous tax and debt burdens in ways that drive even more businesses, jobs and New Yorkers from this state. Either path leads to a death spiral.

The line-in-the-sand moment triggered by the license plate proposal ought not to be the last such message to Albany and its lawmakers. They were elected to be leaders, and they should be pushed to lead this state out of the current fiscal swamp they helped create and onto more fiscally solid ground. They should stop worrying about their jobs -- and start rescuing the state.

 

The Post-Standard in Syracuse:

Time to Act

State legislators must make lasting budget cuts now

What further evidence do state legislators need that New York is running out of money — and that the time for politics as usual has passed?

Gov. David Paterson has been pounding on the issue for well over a year. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli weighed in again last week with the news that the state might be unable to pay billions of dollars owed to towns, villages, schools and medical providers by next month if nothing is done.

The governor called the Legislature back to Albany last week to resolve the $3.2 billion hole in the current budget and begin to tackle the projected three-year gap of more than $27 billion. But not a cent of spending has been cut. Lawmakers remain in Albany, where leaders emerged from behind closed doors Tuesday with nothing positive to report.

It is troubling that many legislators want to rely on "one-shot" solutions — like refinancing tobacco settlement money — that would only make things worse in the long run.

The problem, simply put, is this: New York state spends more money than it takes in, and it has to cut spending before all the money runs out. Paterson has logically proposed that some of the cuts come from the areas where the spending is greatest — education and health care. Those are never easy cuts to make, especially in mid-year. But the governor got it right in his address to the Legislature last week: "Cutting now will alleviate the damage of gutting later."

For years, New York has spent generously on education and health care — arguably more generously than any other state. That generosity has made life better for millions of New Yorkers, but it has come at a price. Having failed to build up an adequate cushion for a rainy day, Albany now confronts the choice of cutting now or facing much larger problems later.

Carl Kruger, Democratic chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has accused the governor of hyping the crisis by creating a "doomsday scenario." But facts are facts and numbers are numbers. The price of inaction is made clear simply by looking at other states. Will New York soon be handing out IOUs instead of tax refunds, as California had to do over the summer? Will it be reduced to seeking sale-and-lease deals on Capitol buildings, like Arizona? Will it eliminate school days, like Hawaii?

It is useless to hope that better times will eliminate the need for tough decisions. Forecasts call for continued high unemployment through next year, meaning continued low tax revenues. And at the end of next year, the state will be without the crutch of federal stimulus money.

Our legislators are good at acting tough when it is comfortable for them — witness their piling-on over the license plate replacement fiasco. They’re less practiced at making necessary decisions that will upset lobbyists and some of their own constituents. But if there ever was a time for responsible governing, it is now.

 

 

Watertown Daily Times:

No action

When will Legislators respond to crisis?

There is a reason that Gov. David A. Paterson’s public approval ratings are rising — from 27 percent in October to 33 percent now in a recent Siena College poll.

 

New Yorkers correctly perceive that their governor is trying to deal with the state’s economic crisis in a direct and responsible manner.

 

He is doing so in the face of opposition, denial and disorder from the New York State Legislature.

 

Gov. Paterson has sounded the alarm for weeks about a $3.2 billion budget deficit that needs to be closed. He has warned that failure to grapple with the deficit now could lead to a $9 billion deficit at the beginning of the next fiscal year in April.

 

But trouble will come earlier than that. Next month, the state will be unable to pay its bills if the deficit is not tamed first. If that happens, New York’s credit rating would suffer and the hole the state has dug would deepen.

 

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli concurs with the governor’s message. He, too, has warned that New York will find itself out of cash “if we stay on the current path.”

 

How have the legislators responded?

 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, rejects Gov. Paterson’s argument, contending that the state “absolutely” won’t run out of cash, as the governor suggests will happen without deficit reduction. Others, such as Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, D-Bronx, agree that the state’s pockets are deeper than the governor and comptroller imagine.

 

Sen. Kruger and others suggest collecting cigarette taxes on Indian territory, something governor after governor has resisted doing. That would provide an immediate $135 million, the lawmakers contend.

 

A license plate replacement plan approved by the Legislature would have provided $129 million, but popular opposition to that caused the legislators to reconsider.

 

Gov. Paterson has said that $700 million in midyear school aid cuts are necessary as part of deficit reduction. Senate Republicans and Democrats have stood foursquare against that.

 

Nor will they accept the governor’s proposed cuts in health care.

What will they accept? Inaction is unacceptable.

 

No one wants to trim anything from the state budget. But a day of reckoning grows ever nearer.

 

Gov. Paterson has said: “It’s about saving our house.” Speaking about aid to education and health care last week, he observed: “Ideologically, my deficit reduction plan goes against everything I have fought for for 20 years. The one thing I’m trying to do is save the state.”

 

Let’s hope some legislators are listening and willing to do what is right for New York — ultimately. As of Tuesday afternoon, no action was expected.

 

Binghamton, Ithaca, Elmira Gannett Newspapers:

 

Wasting time in Albany

 

What if every New Yorker went to work one day, didn’t do what the job required, still got paid and came back the next day — possibly for a repeat? Unlikely? Not for the New York State Legislature.

 

Taxpayers have seen their legislators squander time and money for at least two days worth of special sessions called by Gov. David Paterson to deal with a critical budget crisis. Rather than get down to work and make cuts to close a budget gap of about $3.2 billion this fiscal year, legislative leaders and the rest of the Legislature have accomplished nothing. And all the while, they’ve cost taxpayers about $35,000 in daily expenses they collect, not including travel expenses to and from Albany.

 

Worse yet, they seem to be ignoring Paterson, who has tried to tackle the budget crisis facing the state by proposing some $1.3 billion in mid-year spending cuts, primarily in education and health care, The current scenario is Albany is an unsettling reminder of the Senate’s summer slumber party when that chamber spent four weeks — also at taxpayer expense — at the end of the regular session fighting over who was in charge and holding up key end-of-year legislative decisions.

 

Voters complained loudly back in June about the Senate’s inaction and even threatened to get even at the polls in 2010. Don’t be surprised if they do the same after this latest round of dysfunction. But neither voters nor lawmakers can afford to wait for political judgment day next year.

 

The financial crisis is here and now. New Yorkers must pressure legislators to make the hard decisions that Paterson has asked of them. Not only is the state looking at a huge budget gap, but it also may have trouble paying its bills in December. As painful as Paterson’s proposed cuts may be, there are no better options being offered. Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, has floated a couple of disingenuous ideas, including the legally complex notion of taxing cigarettes sold on Native-American reservations. Meanwhile, Paterson has tried pushing an increased vehicle registration fee to raise about $129 million, but is now backing away from the plan after a loud public outcry.

 

Instead, a strategy offering greater financial relief must be enacted immediately. The 2010 re-election campaign begins with this special session, and voters should insist that their legislators act. They can start at the top by leaning on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson with phone calls and e-mails.

 

The tough decisions involve cuts.  Borrowing or more taxes are not the answer. The private sector all over New York has had to inflict painful cuts to meet budgets. Legislators must stop stalling and do the same.

 

Poughkeepsie Journal:

 

State wastes time and money

 

This is what they came back for? This is the best they could do? These have been some “extraordinary sessions’’ of the state legislature, all right. Extraordinarily wasteful and unproductive.


 State leaders are going to have to do better, fast. And Gov. David Paterson is at least showing more backbone by demanding lawmakers continue to come back to try to deal with the mounting budget deficit. What’s more, the governor did something we haven’t seen nearly enough of in Albany.


 He took on his own political party.


He specifically cited the Senate’s Democratic majority for failing to “cut a dime from anybody” and, instead, proposing unrealistic one-shot revenue gimmicks to close the  $3.2 billion budget deficit. That budget gap is projected to balloon by the end of the next fiscal year, when a massive infusion of federal stimulus money runs out. Senate Democrats did pull out some gems, such as asking the governor to start taxing cigarettes sold on Native-American reservations. The state has been unsuccessful in those attempts before. Besides, the state needs more immediate solutions to deal with the budget shortfall.


Paterson called lawmakers back for joint session last week, when he gave an impassioned speech for them to act, but nothing of consequence has been accomplished. But it is costing state taxpayers for the pay and reimbursements of lawmakers traveling to the state capital.


So far this year, state leaders managed to pass a budget that increased spending from  $121 billion to $131 billion regardless of any sensible concerns about the recession and the lack of revenue to pay for what they approved. They have seen a Senate political stalemate that lasted more than a month and essentially shut down any state business. Now they are going about making a mockery of the system, adhering to the governor’s call to come back to Albany but failing to address these fiscal problems once there.  It’s true what Paterson has proposed is painful, including cuts to education and health care. But even Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn has conceded “At the end of the day, it’s going to be a shared sacrifice.”


So, if that is the case? Why put it off?


 

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