I’ve been in a funk since the 2009-10 state budget passed. The state’s elected leaders entered the budget negotiations confronting a potential $20 billion deficit, up from the $14 billion estimated when the Governor released his original budget proposal. That is, the state would have run a $20 billion deficit in 2009-10 if spending and revenue continued without changing anything structural (like tax rates or spending formulae). The faltering economy could no longer satisfy the state’s addiction to ever-greater spending.
Given such a dire forecast, we all wondered how the state would manage to find the money to avoid a major reduction in spending. Imagine our surprise when the Legislature and Governor pulled a rabbit out of the budgetary hat and increased budgeted spending by $12 billion, nearly 9% more than in 2008-09.
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This week’s conference on the state’s budget crisis—sponsored by the Empire Center on State Policy and the Center for Governmental Research Inc.—was organized around a technical question: What can be cut from New York’s budget to fix a deficit estimated (today, at least) at $12.5 billion? Yet the overriding problem is not technical but political. My colleague Erika Rosenberg, moderator of one of the sessions, asked the panelists this question: “What’s it going to take for the Legislature to make the unpopular decisions that are needed to balance the budget?”
Gov. David Paterson made the correct technical decision in calling the Legislature back for a special session on Nov. 18. Yet the brutal reality of New York politics eliminated any possibility of progress. With control of the state Senate still in question and the political risks starkly clear, the session never convened.
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