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Is this trip a stumble?

  Timing can be everything in Albany.

   Defenders of Gov. David A. Paterson's plans to head to two Caribbean islands next week say the trips will help New York's economy, were planned a long time ago and will not cost the taxpayers a dime -- at least for the governor's expenses.

   But the trip's timing left some scratching their heads Thursday. "I was wondering about the decision when I heard about it," said one seasoned Albany public relations pro.

   The governor just this week released fiscal numbers showing New York faces its greatest-ever budget deficit over the next few years. Lawmakers are coming back in less than three weeks to cut, if Paterson gets his way, $2 million from the current budget. And the news only gets worse next year.

   Then there's the funding for the trip. Paterson aides say it's a wash for taxpayers because the governor's 2010 campaign account will pay his way. But that led at least one watchdog group to wonder how that jibes with the governor's own legislation -- which did not pass this year -- curbing longtime Albany abuses that let politicians dip into campaign accounts for expenses that really have nothing to do with their re-election efforts.

   To Paterson supporters, the alternative -- using taxpayer money -- would have been ridiculous at a time when he is asking for shared sacrifices by all groups that rely on the state budget for funding. They also wonder, what's the big deal? A governor has to travel, has to represent the state -- both within the state's borders and outside. And that happens when the state's finances are both healthy and dire.

   -- Tom Precious


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