POLITICAL NEWS Analysis
Why Is The Budget Late? Just Follow The Money
(AP) New York Gov. David Paterson was criticized by lawmakers for hindering negotiations in a budget now over a month late.
His response: What negotiations?
Meanwhile, school districts are without $2.1 billion in funding, statefunded construction projects and their jobs are suspended and threatened, and nonprofit agencies don’t have the state aid they need to carry out social services on a razor-thin budget.
Some answers are in the New York Public Interest Research Group’s analysis of 2009 lobbying data. It tracked the activities of 3,499 interest groups who spent $40 million to lobby the state’s 212 legislators. Lobbyists tacked on another $5 million in campaign contributions.
A major hang-up in stalled budget negotiations is over a cut to school aid, despite pressure by powerful teachers’ unions and other laborbacked groups. Education lobbyists spent $13.6 million last year.
Another big issue in closing a $9.2 billion deficit is funding that feeds the other public worker unions. Paterson sought $250 million in concessions, but received blistering re- jections to his ideas of delaying 4- percent raises for a year, delaying some pay, and his latest that would put 100,000 state workers on one day’s furlough every week as bare bones emergency spending measures keep the state solvent and running.
One labor leader’s response: “Nuts,” quoting the response by surrounded American soldiers in World War II to the German Army’s order to surrender.
Labor lobbyists spent $7.1 million last year.
Paterson and the Legislature were also trying step up negotiations on the Power for Jobs program, trying to extend it beyond its May 15 sunset and reshape it so more businesses would qualify for cheaper electricity. Lost, however, would be the direct discount in household rate payers that now is at least $24 to $48 a year, a rare guaranteed dividend from Albany.
Manufacturing lobbyists spent $9.3 million. Public utilities lobbyists spent $3.8 million.
“Those that have the money speak the loudest,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner. “They must believe they get what they want because why else would they spend it?”
Paterson was ignored when he recently asked legislators to adopt his revised, balanced budget with cuts in spending to special interests. He said pass it and he’d take all the blame and go to lawmakers’ districts if necessary. He also asked legislators to approve a one-day furlough bill.
Editor’s note: The state legislature passed legislation on Monday, May 10 implementing weekly furloughs of state employees, but a temtion porary restraining order barring the furloughs from beginning the week May 17 was issued by a judge on Wednesday, May 12.
It’s an extreme measure, but one for which Paterson is increasingly getting credit.
The New York Daily News, like many newspapers recently, editorialized that the Legislature has “abdicated all responsibility in the face of a historic financial meltdown ... Paterson has done his constitutional duty by proposing budget measures that, while hardly dramatic, would at least balance the books ... Every day that passes adds to the disgrace of the State of Shame. Remember in November.”
To be fair, it’s not all legislators’ fault any more than it is lobbyists’ fault. Legislators are often protecting programs important to their constituents, like schools and hospitals, and putting people out of work isn’t the preferred way to deal with a recession and anemic tax revenues.
Lobbyists are also doing their jobs, protected as free speech by law. It’s not their fault legislators listen so well.
And even Paterson’s statesmanship can be questioned. He’s not running for election so he doesn’t need the special interests’ campaign support. A year ago, when he was still planning to run, he agreed with the Legislature to the 2009-10 budget that, in a staggering recession, included a near-record and unsustainable 8.7 percent increase in spending and $7 billion in new or higher taxes.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the fiscal crisis that’s hitting New Yorkers. And plenty of cash.
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