For the past few weeks, I have reported to you on the tremendous successes we achieved with this year’s State Budget, along with the numerous achievements of the past two Legislative Sessions that many are saying were the most productive in New York’s history. Along with this good news, I also offered a warning that despite these positive developments and Albany’s newfound ability to get things done, real challenges remain that could undo our recent progress.
I believe that the job of transforming New York – making our state more affordable for taxpayers and more attractive for job creators – is far from finished. We cannot afford to let Albany slip back to the bad old days of passivity, tax-and-spend and waiting for the next crisis. We need a proactive mindset that tackles and solves the remaining challenges we face.
STATE BUDGET CRISIS TASK FORCE ECHOES MY WARNINGS OF REMAINING FISCAL CHALLENGES FACING NEW YORK
A new report issued by “State Budget Crisis Task Force” confirms my concerns and should provide a wake-up call to my fellow Legislative Leaders and all Albany policymakers that we still have a great deal more to accomplish. The Task Force report outlined six major challenges to the fiscal stability of state governments (New York included) and warned of threats posed by growing the costs of government, mandated spending programs and underfunded pension obligations, among other factors.
The State Budget Crisis Task Force is a non-partisan group of respected public policy experts including Richard Ravitch, former New York State Lieutenant Governor, and Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve under two U.S. Presidents. The Task Force analyzed the challenges facing state finances in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. The Task Force’s report echoes the very same warnings I have made: even though New York is beginning to head in the right direction, the job of fixing our economy, restoring fiscal accountability and reducing government’s size and cost to taxpayers remains unfinished. You can read the Task Force’s report at www.statebudgetcrisis.org.
While the Task Force analyzed a variety of possible threats to the future economic stability of state finances, six principal challenges were ultimately identified:
- Medicaid spending growth which is crowding out other needs;
- Federal deficit reduction that threatens state economies and budgets;
- Underfunded retirement promises creating risks for future budgets;
- Narrow, eroding tax bases and volatile tax revenues undermining state finances;
- Local government fiscal stress posing challenges for states; and
- State budget laws and practices that hinder fiscal stability and mask imbalances.
The Task Force report stated that these challenges threaten state governments’ investment in priorities such as education and infrastructure, affect the ways in which they are more likely to issue debt (which taxpayers end up paying for) and imperils states’ abilities to provide essential services such as public safety. I would add to the Task Force’s list of challenges the urgent need to create more private sector jobs, as New York’s unemployment rate actually climbed to 8.9 percent in June.
In many ways, overcoming these challenges will be even tougher than solving late State Budgets, as they deal with the skyrocketing growth of massive, mandated entitlement programs such as Medicaid, as well as “inside baseball” issues such as State Budget laws and practices. However, make no mistake: these challenges affect every New York taxpayer regardless of income, political affiliation or zip code.
MY SMART SOLUTIONS TO PROTECT TAXPAYERS, REFORM ALBANY AND PUT NEW YORK ON SOLID FINANCIAL FOOTING
The good news is that by identifying these challenges, we can take proactive steps to fix the problems and put New York on solid financial footing. Here are some of my smart solutions for each of the identified challenges:
- Reduce skyrocketing Medicaid mandate expenses by freezing the municipal share of local Medicaid program costs at the current level (Assembly Bill A.8453);
- Cut the cost and size of government by enacting a State Spending Cap to reduce New York’s susceptibility to reductions in Federal aid (Assembly Bill A.5370);
- Enact real cost relief for localities to help defuse New York’s ticking time bomb of billions in underfunded and mandated pension liabilities (Assembly Bill A.8447);
- Stabilize and grow New York’s tax base by providing targeted tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed workers or veterans (Assembly Bill A.10350);
- Place a permanent moratorium on Albany’s unfunded mandates that drive up costs for localities and property taxes for homeowners (Assembly Bill A.4811); and
- Continue reforming state government’s fiscal practices such as banning “backdoor borrowing”, i.e. borrowing without voter approval (Assembly Bill A.1517).
NOW IS THE TIME TO ADDRESS THESE CHALLENGES
Each of the smart solutions I cited has a corresponding legislative initiative that already has been introduced and is 100 percent ready for the state Legislature’s enactment. As the old saying goes, “the best time to fix a roof is when the sun is shining.” Thanks to the recent success of these past two Legislative Sessions, the sun is starting to shine on New York; now is the time to address our remaining challenges. We must not squander this opportunity to build on our recent successes and address fiscal threats that the State Budget Crisis Task Force and I have identified.
NEXT WEEK: What we can do about New York’s rising unemployment rate!
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.