Sheldon Silver needs to get his mind right. Earlier this month, he said on Fredric U. Dicker's influential Albany radio program that "I don't think tax increases are on the table" as the state seeks to close a budget deficit expected to reach at least $3 billion.
But in Thursday's Buffalo News, the Assembly speaker would not rule out raising taxes. He was right the first time.
More than any individual in Albany, Silver is responsible for the condition of the state budget. With a solid majority in the Assembly, he has more clout than leaders of the fractured Senate or the politically wounded governor.
What is more, Silver exercises complete control over the chamber. Nothing comes up for a floor vote unless he wants it to, and everything that does come up for a vote passes -- including the 2009-10 budget. That document did just about everything wrong, and it still did little to control state spending. Hence, the new budget deficit.
Then, over Gov. David A. Paterson's initial objections, the Legislature passed a budget that added $8 billion in new taxes and fees, increasing an already nation-leading tax burden through dozens of new drains on taxpayers' wallets. No significant budget cuts were made, and we still have a cavernous hole in the budget.
And the main focus of the new-tax package was an increase in taxes on the wealthy, which will drive even more of them from the state -- with likely future losses of not only state taxes on their income, but of the investment, businesses and jobs they control.
Paterson has said the state can't increase taxes again. More of the wealthy will leave and the poor and middle class can't afford it. Nor should the state turn to back-door borrowing. New Yorkers already bear one of the nation's heaviest debt loads -- a projected $52.5 billion for this fiscal year -- in good part because of Silver's insistence on spending taxpayers' money and coddling unions and trial lawyers. Why? Because those in power do everything they can to benefit those who help keep them in office.
That leaves budget cuts. It's the only responsible course and the one Silver hinted at earlier this month. He needs to commit to publicly rejecting taxes and new borrowing. Moreover, Western New York's Assembly Democrats -- Sam Hoyt, Robin Schimminger, Mark J.F. Schroeder, Crystal D. Peoples, Dennis H. Gabryszak, Francine DelMonte and William L. Parment -- need to state repeatedly, clearly and publicly that they won't support any effort to raise taxes or increase borrowing.
Rank-and-file members need to give Silver his instructions. It's time they grew backbones.