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Eliot Spitzer interview on Today

Eliot Spitzer gave an interview this morning on the Today show, talking about his fall from grace and, more importantly, what to do about the economy, regulation, etc. This link includes a story and a seven-minute clip of the interview.

Here is the New York Times take on the interview.

Math shows state budget comes up short

There's been a lot of banter about the good, bad and ugly of the new state budget. Details aside, how good of a job have the Three Men in a Room done in solving the biggest problem of all, the budget's nearly $18 billion structural imbalance?

Not very, according to my math.

The budget deal closes only one-third of the $17.7 billion deficit by way of cuts. Another $5 billion of the deficit is closes by increases in taxes and fees.

So, in terms of the structural deficit, Albany has closed $11 billion, or close to two-thirds, with lasting  adjustments in the form of less spending and more revenue.

The balance of the budget puts the hard decisions off for another day. It includes some $6 billion in federal stimulus aid and $1 billion in one-shot revenue sources.

The budget means that, over this and the following two fiscal years, the state has a projected structural deficit of some $11 billion, assuming the economy doesn't get worse.

Little wonder that State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, among others, say this budget comes up short. They and others contend Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature held off on making some of the hard decisions necessary to get the state back on firm financial footing. The math seems to back up that point of view.

As the New York Times reported:

Over all, it is hardly a picture of austerity, with spending rising more than 9 percent when several billion dollars in federal stimulus money are included.

Of course, for my money, you can't beat the budget coverage Tom Precious is producing for The News.

The Times, by the way, is maintaining a Topics page on the budget, which is a pretty good resource. Among the more interesting reads is a piece that says Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has emerged as the greatest among equals when the Three Men in a Room sit down to bargain.

Mr. Silver, the powerful and cagey Assembly speaker, achieved what he wanted in the budget that emerged from the shadows of the statehouse this weekend, cementing his newfound role as the capital’s center of gravity.

He won the policy fight, forcing Gov. David A Paterson to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, an idea that the governor decried as potentially disastrous three weeks ago. The $131.8 billion budget, which could hardly be called austere, is largely a reflection of the liberal tilt of Mr. Silver, and the Assembly’s predilection for big spending on social programs, no matter the economic climate.

Mr. Silver also dictated the process, turning back the clock to the most secretive budget negotiations the capital has seen in years, casting aside the open government that Mr. Paterson and other Democrats once said would follow the party’s sweeping victories in recent state elections. He argued that technicalities in recently passed budget reform legislation allowed the Legislature to circumvent requirements for open meetings among those negotiating the spending plan.

And the speaker preserved the Legislature’s cherished spending on pet projects, pushing successfully for $170 million for members to dole out in district spending, leaving that pool of money essentially untouched, despite the fiscal crisis.

For more on the pork, go here.

Golisano vs. Hoyt: The rematch

Bob Dylan has his Never Ending Tour, and Tom Golisano and Steve Pigeon apparently have their Never Ending Campaign against Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. No matter that Hoyt, after a lot of sweating, won re-election last fall rather handily.

Responsible New York,Golisano's political organization, sent out a piece of direct mail this week attacking Hoyt for his supposed support of (1) the transfer of nearly $500 million of New York Power Authority funds to state government to close the budget deficit; (2) NYPA's since-aborted increase of discounted electric rates for some consumers; and (3) the authority's since-aborted plan to issue its annual round of bonuses to employees.

The full-color, glossy flier proclaimed:

" ... rather than stand up and fight for us, Assemblyman Hoyt sold us out and voted for this scheme."

Last things first: Neither Hoyt, nor anyone in the Legislature, had a vote on the rate increase or the bonuses. That call was strictly NYPA's.

Taking NYPA money to close the state budget deficit? Yeah, Hoyt is guilty as charged. Along with other Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate, including Bill Stachowski, who Golisano spent $200,000 on to help get re-elected. 

Actually, Stachowski's vote was a lot more crucial, given the Dems' razor-thin majority in the Senate. And Stachowski's vote is a lot more likely to come back to haunt him than Hoyt's, as he is regarded as a lot more vulnerable. I mean, he didn't exactly win re-election last fall in a landslide against Dennis Delano. 

One final thought: I really don't want to function as a truth squad in the Golisano-Hoyt wars. But such continued shenanigans warrant scrutiny.

Class project: Find the political pork

I wrote a while back about the concept of crowdsourcing, which, in short, involves putting the rabble (that's you) to work to help journalists (that's me) figure things out.

Folks, it's time to get busy.

Here is a spreadsheet detailing organizations slated to receive some $62 million in pork barrel earmarks authorized by the State Legislature in the budget it adopted earlier this week. The list was compiled by the good folks at the Empire Center for New York State Policy, who also provided this commentary.

The spreadsheet only goes as far as the information contained in the budget bills. It lists the name of the recipient and the amount. But, among other things, we don't know which legislator sponsored the earmark, or the location of recipients.

I took a quick look and learned, among other things, that three organizations received more than $1 million each, while another 109 got earmarks of at least $100,000.

I'd like people to take a look -- perhaps download the spreadsheet, do some sorts -- and report back in the comments section on what you find. This could make for interesting reading for days to come.

Put on your cape and act like, well, Clark Kent. Then again, this job may require Superman.

He may be able to leap buildings in a single bound, but could even the Caped One make sense of what goes on in the Capitol Building?

Empire Zone reform lite

The state budget modifies -- I hesitate to use the word "reforms" -- the Empire Zone program while sidestepping any measures that approach a fundamental revamping of the program, widely regarded as, ah, something less than a success.

The Syracuse Post-Standard has a story that provides details.

State leaders agreed to kick out of the program any businesses that do not match $1 in investment for every $1 in tax breaks and any that used paperwork gimmicks to qualify for tax breaks they did not deserve.

Paterson also set out to ban from the program retail stores, utilities and real estate businesses -- industries that are under no threat of leaving New York. But those industries are not targeted in the new plan.

Allowing for the continued use of Zone benefits for retail makes the program a favorite for the likes of Home Depot -- not exactly what the framers of the original legislation had in mind

The proposed ratio was $20 in benefit for every $1 in tax breaks, so you can see, Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature have really eased off. In the business world, I'm not sure anyone is putting up $1 to make $1. There has to be a better return.

But hey, this is New York State, which perhaps ought to change its motto from "The Empire State" to "A billion here, a billion there -- whatever."

There was a bit of good news for reformers in the budget. The expiration date for the program was moved up one year, to June 30, 2010. Not that I'm expecting the program to simply sunset. Too many corporate  interests -- and campaign donors -- benefit from it for that to happen.

The Post-Standard has a nifty look-up table on its Web site that enables readers to look up Empire Zone beneficiaries by company name. This is worth mining, folks.

For example:

GEICO'soffice operation in East Amherst enjoyed $24.9 million in tax breaks in 2007, the most of any participating company in the state. GEICO  employed 1,180, paying an average of $14 an hour. GEICO, owned by Warren Buffett and company, appears three times in the database; here is the largest of the entries.

M&T Bank received the most tax breaks of any participating business in the City of Buffalo, worth some $3.4 million. The bank is headed by Bob Wilmers,who is also chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., New York's leading economic development agency. ESD oversees Empire Zones and presumably had input into the changes just enacted -- or not -- to the program.

Interesting what you find on the public record.

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