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Put on the cap ; Forced limit on state spending only way to make Albany focus

In a state in which elected officials were more fearful of voters than of special interests that fund their campaigns, a spending cap might not be necessary.

History has proven -- repeatedly -- that New York is not that state.

The spending cap passed by the State Senate is the only realistic option for forcing state leaders to make the kinds of tough budgetary decisions the rest of us make every day.

In fact, the choices residents and business face are made all the more difficult by the fact that more and more of their money feeds Albany's voracious appetite, leaving less and less to pay the mortgage, hire new workers or do much of anything else.

The Senate measure would cap state spending hikes at 2 percent or 120 percent of inflation, whichever is lower.

Sponsor Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, says state spending jumped 5.71 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10, and increases averaged 5.54 percent over the previous 10 years.

Not many taxpayers are getting 5 percent raises.

Democratic critics complain that the cap would not allow for spending to accommodate, among other things, rapid population growth. That, as much as anything, illustrates how out of touch they are. The only thing growing in New York is the budget -- and anger over it.

Ranzenhofer says the measure has a safety valve that lets a governor and comptroller declare a legitimate emergency -- a natural disaster, for instance -- and give the Legislature a spending plan for dealing with it. That should be enough wiggle room.

As a constitutional amendment, the measure would have to pass two successive legislatures and then be approved in a public referendum. With Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also calling for a lid on spending and public anger palpable, the pressure increases on the Assembly to follow the Senate lead and at least give voters a chance to decide the matter for themselves.

In the meantime, a property-tax cap, also pushed by Cuomo, is a good but insufficient interim step. Given the myriad other ways Albany has found to raise revenue -- hiking taxes disguised as "fees" and borrowing irresponsibly -- the tax cap alone could easily be mere window-dressing. It might give the appearance of reform while Albany simply reaches into a different pocket to take your money.

Only a limit on spending will provide the relief this state desperately needs.

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