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.