I have generally tried to steer clear of NY state politics here for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve only been here two years and understanding how Albany works seems like it could take a lifetime. Second, as a corollary to that, it’s much more fun to comment on the wackiness that comes out of my home state, even from afar. But this thing with the furloughs is just too good to pass up.
To start with, NY, like many states, is facing an obscene budget shortfall. Gov. David Paterson (who truly inherited the problem from former Gov. Spitzer) might be one of the most unpopular executives in the country, with approval numbers regularly in the teens, for his handling of the crisis. However, I’m not sure he should get all the blame. His plan to furlough state workers one day a week is drastic, yes, but the legislature doesn’t seem to be giving him many options. The furloughs were part of the 6th emergency spending extension put forth by Paterson because the stalemate over the actual budget doesn’t have an end in sight. The local NPR station talked to Republican Joe Griffo about the budget negotiations and he expressed dismay that his party seemed to have been locked out of the discussion. But his comments regarding taxes might be the reason: he suggested that he and other Republicans wouldn’t even consider a budget that raised taxes or fees in any way.
I haven’t been here long, but I have figured out that taxes are not popular in NY state. We are one of the most taxed states in the country and, to be fair, it does get a little daunting thinking about what one would pay in property taxes if one were to own a home. On the other hand, taxes are down across the board, so it stands to reason that states’ revenues are down too. For Griffo to state that any tax increase is automatically off the table seems a little nuts. I mean, would a penny-per-gallon gas tax really be breaking our backs? How about an extra penny or two on cigarette and liquor sales?
So the solution is… gridlock. That may be business as usual in Albany, but Paterson may not be the only one who should be a target. The decision to push furloughs is not easy or popular (or maybe even legal), but without a legislature that is willing to consider other means, especially the obvious one of raising taxes, I don’t see how his strategy is that radical. The private sector enforces furloughs all the time. I think all of my friends who were sweating about their pay-less day might be calling Griffo and his cohorts rather than singling Paterson out. It takes two to tango and Paterson is just playing hardball in order to get the legislature to act. It’s not like some other magical solution is in the pipeline.
For their part, the unions might want to think about bending a little too. Maybe that tarnishes my flaming liberal cred a little, but I don’t see how amending a contract in a fiscal crisis is such a showstopper. But I can’t really blame the unions for standing their ground. They’re looking out for their members like they should. But, from this outsider’s perspective, it appears we have a standoff in which no one is willing to compromise, not even a teeny bit. Maybe the unions can come out looking like the bigger person and position themselves for a stronger seat at the table when (if) the crisis passes.
The judge has blocked Paterson’s furlough plan but that only kicks the can down the road. If the affected parties don’t stop posturing and start acting, the situation can only get worse. A one day a week furlough or an extra penny tax on gas might sound pretty good if the pink slips start coming in the mail because the state is completely broke.
I can’t believe I’m even going to write this but it might be a breath of fresh air to return to OK after watching this debacle. Oops, I spoke too soon…