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Cut state budget with a chain saw, not a penknife

Paterson, budget announcement

On one hand, the proposed budget Gov. David A. Paterson released Tuesday goes further than many in the  status quo minded State Legislature would like. Through that prism, his spending plan is kind of bold.

But, given the state's grim fiscal reality -- it's staring at the prospect of a $7.4 billion deficit -- Paterson's proposed budget doesn't go nearly far enough. The state's legacy of over-the-top spending calls for structural changes, and that's largely absent in what Paterson has submitted.

Here's what I find striking:

-- No employee layoffs. How can a significant reduction in payroll costs not be part of the equation, given the size of the budget deficit?

-- A cut in school aid of just 5 percent. Given that school aid has skyrocketed in recent years -- up an average of 7.2 percent annually over the past decade --  and spending on education in New York is among the highest in the nation, the state has been generous to a fault  -- and will continue to be, even if the Legislature were to go along with Paterson's proposed cut.

-- For that matter, the governor is calling for only a small cut in aid to local government, no more than 5 percent. Let's see, Buffalo is sitting on top of a $48.2 million surplus and a $33.6 million rainy day fund, which has prompted the mayor to float the idea of a property tax cut to "share the wealth," which, of course, comes from Albany. It seems like City Hall, for one, could weather a deeper cut.

-- The budget calls for nearly $1 billion in higher taxes and fees that come on top of $8.34 billion in increases last year. Enough already.

-- The Legislature, with its lulus and other perks for lawmakers, and its bloated staff, sets its own budget and it needs to tighten its belt -- by a lot, not a little. Let's see what they do.

A suggestion: Lead by example.

A prediction: They won't.

For years, the governor and Legislature have increased spending, raised taxes and avoided making hard budget decisions. New York is now in financial crisis and while Paterson's spending plan takes some steps in the right direction, too many of them are baby steps, given the task at hand.

As the adage says, it's time to "go big or go home."

Or, as my boys sing, "Let's see action."

Hit it, Pete.

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tagged

Schools | State government | Taxes
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