As the sides attempt to line up in the budget debate supposedly taking place at our state Capitol, I was recently asked to step forward to publicly support the proposal put forth by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch.
For background, Ravitch last month came out with a five-year plan to stabilize the state’s budget. That plan includes authorizing borrowing as much as $2 billion a year over the next three years to help close the deficit, but also outlines some oversight provisions intended to discipline state spending, such as a new financial review board and covenants that would inserted into any new bonds that would cut off borrowing if state officials did not maintain a balanced budget.
Now as the CEO of a chamber of commerce, my natural inclination is to seek a compromise, to find a mutual ground between what our elected officials can realistically deliver and what is in the best interests of our businesses and taxpayers. So I agreed to give it some consideration.
Then it hit me. What is there to consider? Agreeing to support this plan is like telling your children “Do as I say, not as I do,” a meaningless dictate designed to provide cover for bad actions.
I understand the state’s finances are in dire straits, and that bold action is needed. But why would you want to give more borrowing power to a group of people who have time and again shown a complete lack of restraint in how they spend our tax dollars? You could argue that the controls Ravitch has proposed would take care of that. But then you’d have to say you trust our elected officials to actually abide by those restraints, which is something I’m not willing to do.
Why? Let me explain by using another adage: Judge my actions, not my words. In the case of our elected officials in Albany, there’s a long track record of ignoring financial reality so as to curry favor with certain constituents.
Already, Assembly leadership is tinkering with Ravitch’s proposal, making changes that would give the Legislature greater power over deciding whether the budget is balanced as well as dropping the idea of bond covenants. And the budget proposed by Speaker Silver adds back more than $600 million in education funding that the Governor and Senate had proposed cutting, as well as hundreds of millions of other cuts. Does this sound like a group that you can trust to hold the limit on borrowing and spending?
Even if you don’t like cutting education funds, you have to admit that some of the proposed spending in the state budget is ridiculous, for instance:
• $778,000 on two trailers to allow for family and conjugal visits at the Five Points Correctional Facility,
• $500,000 to conduct an audit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by the legislature, an authority already being audited by the comptroller, Inspector General, Division of Budget, Fiscal Staff of both houses of the legislature, NYC Office of Management and Budget, MTA Inspector General, MTA Audit Committee, an MTA public accounting firm, and the State Authorities Budget Office
New York state government has a history of robbing Peter to pay Paul. A recent report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said that over the last decade, state government raided nearly $3 billion intended for programs and services such as road repairs and environmental protection to help close budget deficits. In the 2009-10 fiscal year that expired March 31, the state used about $6.4 billion in these shifts and temporary loans to help close a nearly $18 billion deficit.
DiNapoli said the state has replaced the funding shuffle with new borrowing, which now costs New York about $1 billion a year for debt on bonds used for budget relief. New York’s debt is already three times the national median, and its debt load is expected to increase from $60 billion to $67 billion by 2015.
Unshackle Upstate has a plan to right-size the state budget by 2015, and I’d like to see our elected officials consider that.
As I said, I promised I’d think about the request to support the Ravitch plan. And I did. It’s just that when you really think about it, you realize the only way out of this financial mess New York is in is to insist on no new taxes, no new borrowing – period. The state needs to end the madness, the reckless spending, and learn – like business owners and taxpayers must do – to live within its means.
Or as one fan on the Unshackle Upstate Facebook page implored our elected officials, “More debt/borrowing is NOT a solution! Use some (un)common sense!!”