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Canceled Session Creates Frustration; Leaves More Work for Later

By Assemblyman Will Barclay

</p> <p>Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)</p>
Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

A recent Siena College Research Poll released last week reported that three quarters of New Yorkers say Gov. David Paterson and the State Legislature should cut spending rather than raise taxes or borrow money.  Only 10 percent support increasing taxes and 9 percent favor borrowing money.  New Yorkers also overwhelmingly believe that spending should be cut but not to education or health care.

On Nov. 12, Gov. Paterson announced a plan to reduce the state’s deficit.  He proposed to cut $5.2 billion from the budget throughout the next two years.  Under the plan, the state’s Medicaid system would be cut by $1.8 billion and education would experience a $585 million cut this year and an $844 million cut next year.

On Nov. 18, lawmakers traveled to Albany to address some of the proposals in a special session and hoped for a debate.  Instead, upon arrival, session was postponed due to a last-minute leaders’ meeting.  This means that the Governor and four legislative leaders met to discuss the proposed cuts.  Following this leaders’ meeting, the special session was cancelled.  The Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, refused to bring the Governor’s proposals to a vote.  This and many other reasons ensured the special session would not take place.

This was a frustrating day in Albany.  Leaders’ meetings should have taken place days or weeks before to ensure there would be some cuts made during the special session.  Our state is in a financial crisis.  We now face a deficit.  But this didn’t happen all with the recent Wall Street fallouts; as a government, we have spent beyond our means, borrowed too much and continued to tax our residents.  Since 2003, spending has increased by about $20 billion.

I voted against much of the budget in April because I felt spending was out of line and only ensured further taxes for New York residents.  I agree with the Governor that we need to put the brakes on spending but I disagreed with some of the proposals he put forth and do not believe we need to cut education mid-year.  I believe mid-year cuts to education leave the local taxpayers vulnerable to school tax hikes as districts will be forced to try and make up the difference in revenue shortfall.

There are many other ways that the state can save money before we cut education mid-year.  We could begin by merging some state agencies.  If we merge the Insurance Department and Banking Department, we could create one Office of Financial Services.  Merging the Consumer Protection Board with the Department of Law and merging the Crime Victims Board with the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.  All told, we could save nearly $9.8 million through consolidating resources.

The state could also discontinue funding to the Office of the Lt. Governor until the next election in 2010 and eliminate the Capital Defenders Office as well as the Environmental Facilities Corp. to save an estimated $15.9 million.  We could also suspend state employee travel and vehicle purchases and make a bigger effort to crack down on Medicaid fraud and waste.  It is estimated that there is $4.5 billion in Medicaid waste and fraud.

We could begin enforcing a law that is already on the books and start collecting tax on cigarettes at the Indian Reservations.  We could also identify all of the “ghost commissions” that still receive funding, however, have completed their assigned task.

These are all things the legislature could have passed last week that would have helped decrease the deficit before the New Year.  Unfortunately, lack of planning and politics as usual impeded any progress from taking place last week.  We now await the Governor’s budget, which he will deliver early on Dec. 16 so we can, hopefully, have more time to pass a fiscally responsible budget.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding this or any other state matter.  I can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at (315) 598-5185.