This just in: A proposed state budget cuts taxes, increases spending and borrows more money, in one year. Who knew?
Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, as had his predecessors, issued a timely assessment of the governor's 2006-07 budget just as the Legislature begins serious work on adjusting, adapting and adopting it by April 1. Hevesi, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this fall. Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, is not.
Those realities aside, Hevesi's numbers speak louder than any politics. General fund spending would rise 19.4 percent, as inflation runs in the 3.4 percent range. State debt would increase 19 percent to $653 million. The budget includes $1.6 billion in one-shots, unique revenues that sunset and die as fast as they're spent. Tax cuts included in Pataki's budget would cost $3.4 billion by 2008-2009, long after he's gone. The budget also increases so-called back-door borrowing by authorities that don't require voter approval and means their total debt would reach $47.1 billion.
A spokesman said the budget will leave New York better off than when Pataki became governor 12 years ago. OK, but he took over from an administration that among other things sold the Attica Correctional Facility to raise money. Spokesman Michael Marr also said: "The comptroller appears to be making a call for fiscal responsibility and that's a positive." Indeed.
"He should take this message directly to those who need to hear it -- the Legislature," Marr added. Amen, to that.
Legislative leaders seldom find runaway spending they can't accelerate, or sky-high debt they can't boost into orbit. Especially in this, an election year. One place the leaders could hold the line is by not increasing cost of living adjustments on already abundant state pensions.
Albany likes to operate in secret, often to the taxpayers' detriment. So by laying out his budget assessment, Hevesi at least warns residents what the stakes are.