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LONG-RUNNING SHOW
STATE SPINS ITS WHEELS WHILE PROBLEMS OF PENSIONS, MEDICAID AND EDUCATION FESTER

Here's an idea: Instead of "Excelsior," which means "ever upward" and therefore constitutes deceptive advertising, New York should change its motto to reflect the true spirit of its government. Henceforth, the state motto should be "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Got a budget deadline? Don't worry! It'll keep.

Cities and counties struggling with the cost of pensions? Delay! Instead of fixing the problem, let them postpone the payments they need to make.

Costs of Medicaid sinking the state? No problem! Just ignore it and it will go away.

Courts demanding a change in how the state funds education? Who cares? What do they know, anyway? But just so the governor can pretend he's doing something, he calls a special, one-day session of the Legislature less than 10 days before the deadline. As everyone expected, the Legislature said no dice to the governor's plan.

Surely this must be the worst run state in the Union. California may be in worse financial shape, but it just had an honest vote on borrowing its way out of trouble. New York borrows on the sly. Louisiana may have more crooks, but New York legalizes anti-democratic behavior.

State government of New York is a creature of extremes. Either it does nothing, as in passing a budget or fixing education, or it does something, usually big, without bothering to debate it, as in a dramatic expansion of Medicaid in 1999.

Typical of the state's commitment to the status quo is its reported response to the problem of soaring pension costs in the state's lower governments. Partly because of state policies, pension costs in New York are exorbitant, and cities and counties this year are facing a crisis. Albany's solution: Instead of forcing those governments to come up with $980 million in December, let them come up with it in February. In Albany, it is always better to look away from a problem.

That's what state leaders have done for months as a court-imposed deadline looms over the unconstitutional funding of schools in New York City. The need, obvious to everyone, is to craft a statewide response to the city-focused court decision, but everyone, including Gov. George Pataki and the two legislative leaders, for months did virtually nothing but complain about the other side.

In the last few weeks, the Assembly and Senate tossed out plans like dead fish, but have done little to advance the discussion. Pataki called a special session of the Legislature to discuss the subject this week, but without any new effort to craft a serious proposal. It's like a show trial, with New York's public school students standing in the dock.

That's the way government is in New York, the dyslexic state that thought Benjamin Franklin's advice was never to do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

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