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Thanks for nuthin'!

April 1, 2009 - John Stack

I keep talking to people, and often they ask me about my feelings on Gov Paterson. I knew his popularity numbers were approaching Bushian levels. But to me, it seemed like a lot of the flak was undeserved. A big deal was made out of him choosing Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Clinton. I think it was a great pick. I think he should be applauded for it. In the same story he was chastised for not being more open on the process. I defended him then as it being his prerogative to select a replacement any way he saw fit.

            I also applauded his stance of not kowtowing to any of the special interests and such. He was a democrat, but owed no democrats favors, such as school unions or town and city and county organizations. He seemed to be governing for the good of the State, rather for just his own party. This, for probably the only time it has happened in my lifetime. He came up with radical new ideas to help close the monstrous budget gap caused by a recession not caused by him, but felt by New Yorkers probably more than anywhere else. Not all of his ideas were great, but at least he opened his mouth and offered an idea or solution.

            Recently, supposed advocates of open government have railed against the secrecy of the budget process. Blair Horner and others seem to look at idealistically, as if it was more transparent to the public, a better budget would have been crafted. They even went as far as to say the budget would have been out earlier! I don’t understand this at all. The legislature refuses to change the way they do business. If the public was actually let in ( the dog and pony show of Silver, Bruno and Pataki ‘negotiating’ in public was a ridiculous farce and affront to New Yorkers), how would it get any better? How would it have helped to have the minority ‘leaders’ in the room? Paterson put out his tentative budget early so as to let everyone understand the enormity of the task at hand. But all the minority did was criticize it, with now REAL solutions. Does anyone think that including the minority would have somehow magically crafted a plan that was great and truly beneficial to all? If the minority had any power, it would have dragged on like budgets in the past, passing in July and August.

            I had hoped the ‘secrecy’ would afford Paterson the opportunity to craft some real solutions. Create ways of recurring savings. Not relying on the Stimulus and one shot deals. He finally had the opportunity to be a great leader. Unfortunately, he dropped the ball at the worst possible time. Yeah, he restored the increase in taxes the state pays on Adirondack land. He got rid of the politically popular, but substantively unhelpful STAR rebate program. But, he fell back on what I said the legislature would do months ago. They would raise income taxes on the ‘rich’ and cut State workers. Neither is a fix. (I don’t blame Paterson totally here – the State unions bear a good deal of the brunt for refusing to even consider any negotiating of contracts). Also, it seems like the whole ‘pork program’ - $170 million dollars worth again – was left intact. I guess the democratic Senate majority figured they’d been cut out of the pie for 40 years, they weren’t giving up this one giant perk of the job. So, rest assured Doll and Toy museum, Urban Yoga Foundation, and Brooklyn Cricket League – your money is still there.

            Paterson had the opportunity to be great. Unfortunately, he got a budget out (almost) on time that looks probably pretty close to what would have been there had the rest of the legislature actually worked on it (they would have all come to the same conclusion of tax the rich, layoff state workers and keep the pork). So, now he rightfully gets scorn for being too secretive , but mostly, that the secrecy did absolutlely nothing to create a better budget.


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