Last week, I received a phone call from a constituent. He was calling to inform me that after 82 years he was following his children’s lead and leaving New York for good. He gave one reason: taxes. Why, he asked, should he continue living in New York, paying more than $6,000 a year in property taxes, when he could be paying a fraction of that – along with lower sales taxes and no income tax – living in Florida?
I can’t blame him, and he’s certainly in good company: hundreds of thousands of families have fled New York for lower-tax states (there happen to be 49 of them). Last year’s budget was a good start. It didn’t increase taxes or spending, but if we’re going to have any hope of lowering New York’s out-of-control taxes, we need to have a serious discussion about state spending.
Too many people, in both parties, have advocated lowering taxes without being committed to lowering spending because, let’s face it, it’s not popular to say that you want the state to stop giving away money to a person or a group. No one wants to be seen as “anti” any cause or organization, but it’s time for us to ask the question: with everything else that New Yorkers must worry about and pay for, why should taxpayers have to support all the things they’re on the hook for right now?
We’re experiencing the result of almost a half century of Albany legislators who lacked the resolve to say “no”. They were trusted with our money, with our taxes that you and I had no choice but to pay, and they vacated their duty to be responsible with it. Instead of spending only what was needed, they spent all the money they could take from us, and then some. They created some of the most lavish government programs in the country and they applauded themselves for their generosity as they stuck us with the bill through both state taxes and unfunded mandates on our towns, cities and counties. We have a tax problem in New York because we have a spending problem.
The excesses in state spending have been matched by the lack of honesty about our current situation, and we’re never going to fix New York until that changes. Some people want to engage in gimmicks to keep spending at the same level by putting expenses on one credit card instead of the other by shifting liabilities from one level of government to another. Others in the political class like to bemoan the “waste, fraud and abuse” rather than accept that Albany has actually overstepped its bounds. There are plenty of things that government can do more efficiently, but there are also plenty of things that government shouldn’t be spending our money on at all, and it’s time to fix that.
When the legislature gets back in session in January, we need to take a hard look at how $133 billion of the taxpayers’ money gets spent each year. We owe it to the public to find out why 49 other states are getting along just fine by spending less money than Albany does.