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STATE LEGISLATURE NEEDS TO FOCUS ON BUDGET SAVINGS IT'S NO TIME FOR FISCAL TRIVIA OR HIGHER TAXES

THERE MAY be a small silver lining in the state's painful budget crunch. The $1 billion gap in the current fiscal year, which is more than half gone, is so severe, so threatening, that the leaders in Albany have agreed to confront it with truly serious, responsible actions.

New Yorkers ought to hope that this seriousness continues, dominating the mood of the special upcoming session of the State Legislature called to deal with the daunting budget problems.

Certainly this seriousness among the leaders marks a welcome change of heart from the past, when, trying to parry fiscal trouble, Albany's perverse instinct too often was to toy with quick-fix expedients.

But bracing political winds and a deepening financial pit as the state economy slows down have provoked apparent changes for the better in Albany's mood.

It wasn't long after the sobering election returns that Gov. Cuomo proposed a respectable plan to close the current year's gap by reductions in spending rather than by additional taxes or resort to gimmicks.

His hardened resolve, according to Lt. Gov. Stan Lundine, echoed through a Cabinet willing to target savings that would do the least damage to public programs.

Equally heartening, leaders of the state Senate and Assembly quickly concurred with Cuomo on the size of the gap -- about $1 billion -- and his strategy of closing it without new taxes.

That broad agreement should speed the search for specific cutbacks and minimize partisan bickering. That's fine. In November's election, voters told Albany it had boosted taxes too high and should clean up the budget mess that these higher levies had failed to correct.

In economic as well as political terms, raising taxes again would court dismal folly. In the past two years, Albany has bumped taxes up by almost $3 billion, including a record $1.8 billion jolt last spring. Raising them again now would make New York less competitive with other states in the race to attract and hold jobs and business. Higher taxes would also cut the money consumers and businesses have to spend and invest, thus spurring a sluggish economy in need of economic stimulants.

Beyond a ban on new taxes, details over how to close the $1 billion gap in a fiscal year ending March 31 are not as important as the purposeful mood of state officials in managing the difficulties.

The shared resolve bodes well. This is no time for business as usual. Without prompt and decisive spending cuts, the state's finances can be expected to deteriorate rapidly. Even with these cutbacks, next year's problems will be forbidding.

New Yorkers have a right to expect their leaders, as well as all elected state legislators, to act responsibly. The problems are serious. They are obvious. With the election over and delay the thief of effective results, the time to act is now.

So if there's any silver lining in the current budget mess, it's that things have gotten so bad that Albany is finally mulling over genuine counter measures, emphasizing new savings rather than new taxes. The leaders' resolve ought to be reinforced by rank-and-file legislators at the special session.

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