My trip to Albany this week was in some ways like all the others. But in a couple important ways, it felt very different.
I was leading a group of business people from across Upstate, meeting with leaders of the state Legislature and representatives of Gov. Paterson. We were there to discuss Unshackle Upstate’s policy agenda, and our message was focused, loud and clear: the Legislature must not raise taxes or add new ones. And they must find a way to cut state spending – now.
Here’s where things started feeling unfortunately familiar. Legislative leadership’s initial response was to point out that they didn’t cause the state’s fiscal problems, they inherited them.
Our response: We’re not assigning blame or pointing fingers as to how we got here. But we’re here now, and you’re in power now, so it IS up to you find a way to fix this. And we, the taxpayers of New York state, expect you to do your job and right the state’s finances beginning with this budget.
To which they had another unfortunately familiar response: “We’re making progress, things are moving in the right direction.” Not good enough, we replied. New York’s budgetary problems are real; the state’s financial circumstances are dire. We cannot afford to wait while things move in the right direction; we need to take action now.
We reminded them that their constituents – business owners, taxpayers, heads of households – faced their own financial crisis in the last year, as a result of the recession. And people responded in the only sensible way, by tightening their belts and bringing expenses down to match revenues.
Yet our legislative leadership suggests that we, as taxpayers, should somehow be satisfied with the state budget proposal because it raises spending only a little, less than 1 percent. Truth is, even that small amount is too much because the budget also calls for a whole bunch of new taxes, fees and assessments (which will come out of taxpayers’ pockets) to cover that spending.
No, we said. A less-than-1-percent increase is not acceptable. The only thing that will be acceptable is less spending.
And that’s where I noticed a difference. Up until now, their responses had been pretty typical. But Unshackle’s message is strong, powered by taxpayer anger over the state’s tax-and-spend ways. And for the first time I felt like the legislative leaders sensed that anger. And it’s got them worried that angry taxpayers might decide to take their frustrations out on incumbent legislators up for re-election in the fall.
That’s exactly the message we at Unshackle Upstate are working to convey. So we’re working to keep the heat on so that our legislators and their leadership are fully aware that if they want or vote, they have to earn it. And the only way to do that is to do right by taxpayers, and cut state spending.