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Deficit Looms as Inaction Presides

I can summarize last week’s trip to Albany in one word: frustrating. It’s not easy to bring both the State Senate and Assembly together on relatively short notice for a special session like the one called by the Governor on Nov. 10. If results were the outcome, it would have been well worth the time. However, our efforts were mostly in vain last week. Rather than reduce the deficit, as we were expected to do, time was wasted, session was called and then quickly recessed by our Downstate leaders, and at the end of the night, still no agreements were reached on how to close the $3 billion mid-year budget gap.

It’s been over a month since Governor Patterson made it clear that New York’s economic health is in jeopardy and, if we don’t trim spending, we won’t be able to pay our bills. We’ve been warned by the Governor, the Division of Budget and the Comptroller, that our state will go into default if action is not taken. Still, Albany leaders decided on inaction.

The comptroller issued a statement last week that said, plainly, the state is facing a three-year budget gap of more than $27.5 billion. According to him, New York is on track to spend $4.1 billion more this year than it will take in. These are enormous revenue gap projections, much higher than the Governor’s. A well-run household or business doesn’t manage money this way. When revenue is short, it trims spending. The same mentality should apply to state leaders.

Instead of trimming spending in the spring when they had the opportunity, the majority increased spending to $131.8 billion. When the rest of the economy was in a recession, Downstate leaders asked its taxpayers for more money.

We’re being called to Albany again on Monday. For everyone’s sake, I hope our leaders have heard the cries for action. Here are some ways we can cut state spending without robbing schools of their promised state aid mid-year, as the Governor has proposed, which would effectively shift costs to localities. There are several ways we can avoid this. Here are just a few:

Cut non-essential personal services such as travel, postage, subscriptions and vehicles. This would save $500 million.

Cut contract balances by 5%. The state spends roughly $129 billion on contracts which range from subscriptions to temp agency services. By reducing this expenditure by 5%, we would save roughly $300 million.

Reduce the amount of money set aside to purchase private lands by $30 million.

Add to the Governor’s administrational savings plan to save $169 million.

Trim agency cash balances, excluding Medicaid, school aid, aid to municipalities and libraries by 12.5% rather than 10% to save an additional $120 million.

Continue to refinance bonds and debt for an additional $24 million in savings.

There are many ways to close the mid-year budget gap without placing the burden on the local property taxpayers. It is my hope we can come to a consensus that does not ask more from property and business owners who already pay too much.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.