Thursday, October 26, 2006

Congrats, New York ~ You've Set A Record. . .

. . .In Debt! $49.7 Billion This Year (your individual share is $3515, in case you were wondering)

And you thought the national debt, at $8 1/2 trillion (and growing -- thanks, George) was all that you -- and your great, great, great, great grandchildren -- had to worry about!

The Citizen's Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization devoted to influencing constructive change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government, reports that New York State's debt -- second highest in the nation, after California -- has doubled since 1993.

The State's debt load has risen 8% in less than two years, thanks to the folks in the State Legislature who somehow believe it is their birthright to spend, borrow, and spend some more. [The very same folks who, by the way, want you to "return" them to Albany come November 7th. If only we could get our 5 cent deposit back for every legislator returned!]

Incredibly, more than 90% of the State's debt comes by way of those troublesome -- and wholely unaccountable -- public authorities. You know. The good people at such venerable institutions as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Gap? What gap?), the Long Island Power Authority (not really power to the people, is it?), the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund (we kid you not), and the Empire State Development Corporation, to name but a few of the hundreds of so-called Public Benefit Corporations that borrow and spend New Yorkers' money, too often with reckless abandon.

“New York State debt is out of control,” said CBC President Diana Fortuna, in a press release issued October 17th. “Before legislators attend to their personal finances, they should attend to the people’s business and fix New York’s broken debt limit.” [Ms. Fortuna is alluding to a likely post-Election Day special session, where legislators are expected to return gleefully to Albany to vote themselves a raise for their fine efforts on behalf of their consitituents. Hey, you got a property tax rebate, didn't you? What more do you want?]

The Commission also recently released a publication summarizing the fiscal reforms that emerged from a two-day statewide conference last spring of 120 civic, business, labor, and government leaders from across the state, organized by CBC and held in Armonk, NY. The so-called “Armonk Agenda” contains 12 high-priority steps that should be taken to enact real fiscal reform in New York.

The Citizen's Budget Commission's "12 steps" (which, from what we can glean, do not include drinking heavily) are as follows:

1. Reduce State-mandated local government Medicaid costs more than authorized by the 3 percent cap on local growth enacted in 2005.
2. Redesign State school aid programs including STAR to better serve poorer districts and thereby lower their local school tax burden.
3. Redesign the State-mandated pension benefits for future state and local government workers through changes such as raising the minimum retirement ages, increasing the required employee contributions, eliminating inclusion of overtime in benefit calculations, and eliminating variable supplements for uniformed workers.
4. Lower Medicaid expenditures by eliminating long-term care eligibility loopholes that extend benefits to middle-class residents.

1. Discontinue issuance of State-funded debt to cover operating deficits.
2. Integrate public authorities’ proposed borrowing for capital investments with the State’s capital plan in order to prevent inefficient use of borrowing capacity.
3. Subject public authority borrowing to more rigorous financial review by an enhanced Public Authorities Control Board or by the Division of Budget.
4. Reduce the State’s future debt by lowering capital spending and/or increasing pay-as-you-go financing.

1. Prepare more extensive multi-year financial plans.
2. Enforce and build upon new requirements for reporting by public authorities.
3. Require that lump-sum appropriations meet specific program criteria and be subject to sunshine provisions.
4. Publish the Adopted Budget in a format similar to the Executive Budget.

Of course, we've heard most, if not all, of these debt-busting measures before, without any true "reform" in Albany, and little if any relief trickling down to the masses.

Then again, reform is highly overrated, isn't it? After 7 years as an Albany insider, Eliot Spitzer calls himself a reformer. And closer to home, the Islip Town Republicans, in power seemingly forever and trying to free themselves of the shackles that sent former Supervisor Pete McGowan to jail, refer to themselves in radio spots as "Islip's Republican Reformers."

Just what is a reformed Republican, anyway? That's right, a Democrat!

No, we've never known real reform in New York when it comes to debt, budgets, taxes or public authorities. Not to worry, though. We will. If not in this lifetime, then in the next!
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Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th!

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