Governor Paterson’s Attempt To Play Politics With State Parks Is Latest Reminder Why New York Needs A “People’s Constitutional Convention”
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
May 28, 2010
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Measured against Einstein’s definition, New York’s maddening budget process – where the same missteps are repeated year after year – definitely qualifies for a straight jacket. As the late State Budget drags on – it is now 58 days past due as of this weekly column’s writing – I continually hear from taxpayers that they are angry and ready for real change. They are tired of late State Budgets, tired of high taxes, tired of being threatened with furloughs, tired of paying the tab for Albany’s wasteful spending and tired of seeing their State Parks closed and used as a political bargaining chip. Taxpayers are mad and so am I. Consider this year’s failed budget process and the long line of false starts and broken promises by the Majorities that have brought us to this point. The most recent, and ridiculous, example was Governor Paterson’s decision to close our State Parks and then try to pass the buck after hearing from outraged taxpayers. GOVERNOR PATERSON’S CLOSING OF THE PARKS WAS THE WRONG DECISION Contained within Governor Paterson’s 2010-11 Executive Budget was a misguided proposal to close 41 State Parks and 14 historic sites. The Governor’s decision met with nearly instantaneous opposition from myself and others who called for him to reverse course and, instead of closing parks and historic sites, find comparable savings by reducing wasteful government spending. Another specific idea I offered was urging the Governor to move forward with State Agency consolidations and mergers that would save over $2 billion annually without curtailing services. As of today, none of New York’s more than 100 State Agencies, offices or entities have been consolidated. Clearly, the Governor’s gambit to close the parks was the wrong decision. Besides hearing from irate taxpayers opposed to his plan, in April the National Parks Service informed the Governor that New York State stood to lose hundreds of millions in federal funding if his park closures went forward. Numerous conservation groups and grassroots protests also weighed in, blasting the Governor’s plan and calling on him to explore other options. GOVERNOR FEELS THE HEAT – AND TRIES TO PASS THE BUCK With the Memorial Day holiday quickly approaching, already intense public pressure continued building on the Governor to backtrack and open the parks. In speaking to media last Wednesday, the Governor lamented the breakdown of a deal to open our State Parks and historic sites. The Governor’s comments were, in a word, absurd. After all, it was the Governor who closed the parks in the first place! Now, in the face of intense public criticism, the Governor was trying to deflect the blame. If the Governor wanted to open the parks, he could have done so at any time over the past several weeks. For him to try to indicate otherwise was disingenuous. While I was pleased that an agreement was reached on re-opening our state’s parks and historic sites for the Memorial Day holiday after the Governor had closed them, his claims of reducing General Fund spending by $74 million to pay for it rings hollow. This deal to re-open the parks was based on a re-programming of Real Estate Transfer Taxes, raiding the State’s Environmental Protection Fund, along with imposing millions in new fees, including $10.8 million in surcharges from last year’s budget, and $2.1 million in new fines. The Governor essentially ransomed our State Parks to impose yet another fee increase on New York taxpayers. I cannot decide what is worse: the fact that the Governor closed the parks or his mischaracterizing how their re-opening was paid for. It was a cash grab, plain and simple. TIRED OF PARKS BEING USED AS A POLITICAL BARGAINING CHIP? THEN SUPPORT A “PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION” If learning that State Parks were used as a political bargaining chip left you shaking your head in disbelief, you are not alone. Millions of New Yorkers watching this ongoing spectacle of another late State Budget have reached that same conclusion. The key is not to quit or let the status quo win, but continue fighting by demanding real change for the broken institution of state government. It begins with convening a “People’s Constitutional Convention” that empowers taxpayers – not the politicians, lobbyists or insiders – to take back their state government and make real reform happen. Some of those reforms could include making changes to the state’s dysfunctional budget process to ensure a spending plan was in place by New York’s April 1 fiscal deadline. Doing so would make certain that future Governors cannot hold park funding hostage. If passing on-time budgets and protecting our parks sound like good ideas, visit www.reformny.org to support a People’s Convention. REMEMBER AMERICA’S HEROES By the time this column appears in local newspapers, Memorial Day 2010 will have likely passed. However, the debt we owe to America’s best, brightest and bravest who made the ultimate sacrifice should be remembered 365 days a year. Our freedoms are not free – they are paid for with the blood, sweat and personal sacrifices of the men and women who proudly wear America’s uniform. In between the cookouts and enjoying a relaxing day with family and friends, we should all take a moment to remember our nation’s true heroes. As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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