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Spitzer abandoned pledges of openness and restraint

This past November, Eliot Spitzer was elected with a large mandate to change the way business is done in Albany and to reform state government. In his first 50 days he was fulfilling that mandate. Some of the legislative victories we enjoyed were workers' compensation reform, ethics reform and civil confinement for the most dangerous sex predators.

Unfortunately, "one step forward, two steps back" is a good description of where we find ourselves today. The just completed budget process has knocked the reform train off the tracks.

This record $122 billion budget spends too much, borrows too much, taxes too much and reforms too little. The process of putting it together was even worse. Done behind closed doors and at the last minute, lawmakers were given thousands of pages to read minutes before they were expected to vote.

During his State of the State address, Spitzer promised to "rein in spending" but his initial budget proposal increased spending by 6.3 percent -- more than twice the rate of inflation.

Spitzer had promised that he and lawmakers "will finally learn to say 'no' to budget requests we simply cannot afford." Unfortunately a desire to pass a budget on time seems to have overshadowed these bold declarations. Spitzer allowed the Legislature to stuff an additional $1 billion into an already bloated budget. It was disheartening to many who hoped that Spitzer would be strong enough to pull back the reins on the decades-long spending binge that has weakened New York's competitiveness.

Consider: New York's population is only 6 percent larger than Florida's, yet we spend 60 percent more. Is it any wonder Florida has a booming economy and no income tax?

New York State leads the nation in Medicaid spending; we spend more than twice the national average. We lead the nation in per-pupil education spending. We pay the highest state and local taxes in the nation. We pay the highest gasoline taxes. We have the second-highest state debt in the nation behind the much larger state of California. But when it comes to job growth, we rank near the bottom.

According to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, more than 1.2 million New Yorkers moved out of state since 2000 -- the biggest such loss of any state. At the same time, state spending rose by more than $30 billion.

At some point we need to be honest with ourselves and say enough is enough. We need a leaner, more efficient and less costly government, not budgets that increase spending at rates more than three times the rate of inflation as this one will do.
My wish is that Spitzer will find the will next year to rein in taxes and spending and that New Yorkers who are contemplating moving will call their elected officials and make themselves heard. That may be our only hope.

James Tedisco, a Republican, is the minority leader of the New York State Assembly. His e-mail address is tediscj@assembly.state.ny.us.

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