Solons Weigh $3B Deficit
$10B Shortage by FY 10.
Paterson Proposes Cuts.
Can Divided Houses Act?
By Henry J. Stern
The Legislature met today to consider Governor Paterson’s request to make cuts of about a billion dollars in state spending for education and health. The reductions are less than one per cent of the state budget of $132 billion.
These areas are where the most discretionary expenditures can be found. The governor’s proposals are not adequate to deal with the financial crisis facing the State, but they are a step in the right direction. They recognize that the current budget for FY 09, adopted April 6, cannot be funded out of existing and anticipated revenues.
Nonetheless, even these modest proposals for reductions appear to be opposed by the Senate Democrats who, in the short time they have been in control of the chamber, have given their Republican adversaries a strong case for their effort to recapture the leadership in 2010. That year is very important because after the Federal census data comes out in 2011, the Legislature will be required to redistrict. At this time, and for the past forty years, the Senate has been gerrymandered to favor the Republicans and the Assembly to favor the Democrats. Each party controls one house; while the governorship shifts between the two major parties, the legislature has been a relative constant, with seniority adding to the privileges of incumbents.
Actually, split responsibility between the parties is not that bad, because each house is ready to blame the other for not keeping their campaign promises and kowtowing to special interests who have funded their political activities year round. Both houses came under the leadership of one party in January 2009, after the Democrats reached agreement with a cabal that at the time was styled the "four amigos”: Senators Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada, Ruben Dias, Sr. and Hiram Monserrate comprised the quartet. The January rebellion was settled with a combination of patronage and promises for the four, and the Senate organized itself with Malcolm Smith re-elected as majority leader and Dean Skelos, the Republican successor to Senator Joseph Bruno, as minority leader.
The arrangement fell apart after Espada demanded an additional two million dollars for his personal nonprofit, the Soundview Health Center in the Bronx. This is Espada’s day job, for which he receives about $460,000 a year in salary and benefits. His three sons, Pedro (a former city councilman), Romero and Alejandro, are on the payroll for about $90,000 a year apiece. It was young Pedro who his father tried to install in a $120,000 state job last August. His deliberately opaque title was to be “deputy director of intergovernmental relations.” After Attorney General Andrew Cuomo threatened to investigate the whole business, Pedro resigned and Cuomo, so far as we know, did not pursue the matter.
With regard to finance, Senator Kruger has proposed more borrowing against the tobacco settlement reached in 1998. The State has already dipped into funds payable in future years, and Kruger would further drain that resource. He would also sweep away the savings of public authorities, which is another one-shot. When the Republicans controlled the Senate, Kruger was their Democratic favorite. In February 2007, Senator Bruno, then the majority leader, appointed Kruger chairman of the Senate Social Services Committee, a highly unusual appointment in an intensely partisan body. Bruno resigned from the Senate in July 2008 and is now on trial in Federal court in Albany for a variety of job-related offenses. He maintains his innocence.
The legislature is faced with a choice between a small step to reduce the deficit and more financial flim-flam. Since 32 affirmative votes (out of 62) are required for the Senate to act, there are now 32 nominal Democrats and 30 Republicans. One novelty is that our new Lieutenant Governor, Richard Ravitch, presides over the Senate and is empowered to vote to break a tie on procedural matters. We inquired and were told by an Albany official that he cannot provide the 32nd vote for the passage of a law.
Bill Hammond, a frequent critic of the legislature, has a column in today’s Daily News, provocatively titled YOUR WORTHLESS STATE SENATE. We quote from it:
“The 62 members of the state Senate…are once again showing themselves to be the weakest link in Albany’s notoriously flimsy chain. The proof lies in the so-called ‘deficit reduction plan’ that Senate Democrats floated over the weekend – which would more accurately be called a ‘deficit explosion plan’.
“Rejecting virtually every one of Paterson’s modest midyear budget cuts, the Democrats instead proposed to break open every piggy bank and run up every credit card to max – in a desperate attempt to keep the spending party going for a few more months.”
In our judgment, the real problem is that Paterson’s cuts are inadequate to close the gap between anticipated revenues and expenditures, and that he will have to go back to the legislature to keep the state solvent. The opposition to any budget reductions show how far the Senate Democrats are from reality. With a tiny majority that depends on the good graces of Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, they are unlikely to agree on anything. It is understandable that Espada, for instance, opposes any cuts in the hospital budget. It is the vehicle through which he and his sons earn their daily bread, or in this case, their daily éclairs.
In June, the Senate was paralyzed for a month by the antics of renegade Democrats, who successfully sought and received a much larger slice of the pork pie. (BTW, a porkpie is also a kind of hat, made of felt with a flat top. The hat is associated with jazz and blues musicians. The name comes from its shape.)
The only reality the Senators understand will come when the insolvent state government is unable to issue their paychecks, or the banks refuse to cash them.
The problem is that so many innocent people will be injured if that day comes to pass. But why let the world intrude on their fantasies? They believe there will always be someone else to pay the bill. States, however, cannot go on welfare. We will watch the coming confrontation with interest. Something’s gotta give.
CORRECTION: Last week we gave an incorrect date for President Eisenhower’s accession. In fact, he succeeded President Harry S. Truman on January 20, 1953.
Eisenhower served two four-year terms and was succeeded on January 20, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. It may be hard for some to believe that there was only one president between Truman and Kennedy, who appear to have served in different eras. We want to thank Paul Lobo, John Tepper Marlin, Stephen T. Whalen, Steve Simon, Richard Sheirer, Art Yevin, Jerry Skurnik and Mark Foggin for calling the error to our attention.
AVAILABILITY: Mayor Koch wrote two commentaries this week; one on three subjects: the healthcare bill, Afghanistan and ticker tape parades; the other on the slaughter at Fort Hood.
POPULAR CULTURE: A reader who also attended summer camp many years ago wrote to us that the refrain "when the log rolls over we will all be dead" was not sung by roaches sitting on a toothpick in a bathtub, but by ants, roaches being too large. There is another ditty about roaches, which we will not repeat. That would be TMI - too much information - in today's lexicon.
StarQuest #617 11.10.2009 1265wds