The “Special Session” Strikes Out
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
December 3, 2010
Did you hear a loud “thump” early last week? That was the sound of the most recent “Special Session” in Albany falling flatter than a pancake. The reason for this was that certain politicians in the state Legislature refused – yet again – to make the tough choices taxpayers expect and New York’s extremely shaky financial situation demands. Governor Paterson had issued a proclamation calling this Extraordinary Session with the intention of finishing some of the unfinished business leftover from this year’s Legislative Session, which is exactly what I have been publicly calling for these past several months. CHALK ONE UP TO ALBANY’S (STILL) BROKEN STATUS QUO Without question, topping the Special Session “to-do” list was addressing New York’s growing budget deficit by making $315 million in mid-year budget cuts (the state’s fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31). As state revenues have continued their steady decline, the need to make such cuts was as inescapable as Thanksgiving leftovers. While $315 million is definitely not pocket change, keep in mind this is out of a State Budget totaling nearly $135.3 billion, or less than one percent of New York’s entire 2010-11 spending plan. However, neither of the Majorities in the Assembly or Senate could find the will to make the cuts. When the Majority Conferences who run the state Legislature cannot stomach cutting less than one percent of the entire budget, you quickly get an idea why New York is teetering on the verge of fiscal insolvency. It is always easier for politicians to spend your hard-earned money and curry favor than to make the tough choices and vote for necessary cuts. Nevertheless, what New York needs right now are not more politicians; we already have too many of them. Instead, the Empire State needs strong leaders and true citizen legislators who are willing to face the hard choices that must be made. REAL SOLUTIONS FOR MORE THAN $5 BILLION IN DEFICIT REDUCTION When it comes to offering real solutions to strengthen New York’s financial standing, talk is cheap. That is why our Assembly Minority Conference has continually “walked the walk” by outlining more than $5 billion in real budgetary savings that could be achieved without raising a dime in taxes or fees. Our detailed, non-partisan cost savings proposals included common sense ideas like cutting State Agency expenses, ending overtime, instituting a payroll lag and eliminating Member Items – also referred to as “earmarks” or, more appropriately, “pork.” If enacted, our package of proposals – which we offered to the Governor and the other Legislative Conferences in the fall of 2009 and again in the spring of 2010 – would have given New York a running start at closing the budget deficit, instead of merely running in place. TAXPAYERS DESERVE THE TRUTH ABOUT NY’S FINANCES As you are reading this column and learning that the most recent in a long line of unproductive Special Sessions came up short, you might ask a logical question: How does this keep happening? The answer is a simple, yet cynical, one. The reason these Special Sessions accomplish little of substance is because certain politicians in Albany make a calculated gamble that taxpayers aren’t paying close attention and they can keep important information from you – information that directly affects you, your family and your financial future. Acting like the character Colonel Nathan Jessep from the movie A Few Good Men, some politicians in Albany mistakenly believe that “You can’t handle the truth.” TIME FOR SOME STRAIGHT TALK Folks, I believe just the opposite. I know you can handle the truth. In fact, you deserve nothing less than the absolute truth about New York’s real fiscal condition. State government’s “books” must always be open to you, the taxpayer. With that in mind, let’s have a little “straight talk” about why getting a running start at closing the budget deficit was so important, should have been acted upon and the failure to do so was a missed opportunity. PRICE TAG FOR NY’s 2011 PROJECTED BUDGET DEFICIT: $10 BILLION New York’s financial condition has gotten so bad, the official state color should be red, as in red ink. Case in point: the budget deficit for the next fiscal year is expected to be upwards of $10 billion and could possibly grow to nearly $15 billion the year after. That means in order to close this budget deficit over a one-year period, policymakers would have to cut almost $27,397,260 a day, every day. Yet, the Majority Conferences who run the state legislature would not even act upon mid-year (six month) cuts totaling $315 million. Obviously, the chances of their suddenly discovering fiscal responsibility and cutting $27 million per day are, putting it mildly, highly unlikely. BACK TO BASICS: CUT SPENDING, MANDATES AND TAXES TO SHRINK THE SIZE, COST AND REACH OF STATE GOVERNMENT The key to restoring New York’s once proud financial standing is getting back to basics – this means making spending restraint, mandate and tax relief priorities for the upcoming Legislative Session. Yes, there are many good ideas that are introduced as legislation each session, but with New York coming up against a budget deficit of at least $10 billion, we cannot afford to let the 2011 session be sidetracked. Despite the latest Albany strikeout, we can still hit a homerun for fiscal accountability by getting back to basics and having the political will to reduce spending. 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 email@example.com. 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