Op-ed column: Paterson deserves credit for tackling deficit

I support Gov. Paterson. There, I’ve said it and just separated myself from 70 percent of New Yorker

I support Gov. Paterson.

There, I’ve said it and just separated myself from 70 percent of New Yorkers, according to the latest polls.

In fact, I don’t believe the polls completely. I think there is a growing backlash to the governor-bashing that has been going on lately, and people are getting tired of it. They know that this man took office during an historic recession and what he inherited in debits and credits is certainly not all his fault. In fact, he has been working hard and diligently to reduce the state’s deficit.

As I look at the polls (both Siena and Marist), I find something curious. Gov. Paterson’s favorable rating has dropped more than 25 points in a year, his unfavorable rating has risen over 50 points in the same year.

In the election of 2010, 69 percent of those polled say they would vote for someone else for governor while only 17 percent would vote for him. He trails Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by 60 points, Rudolph Giuliani by more than 20 and Rick Lazio by 3.

In other polls the margin is even greater. However, the curious part is in a recent Marist poll where people were asked who is to blame for the economic mess we are in — 70 percent blamed the state Legislature, while only 21 percent blamed Gov. Paterson.

State in peril

Despite last week’s $2.7 billion budget deficit agreement for the current fiscal year, some projections put the 2010-11 deficit as high as $9 billion. The Pew Center on the States rates each state by fiscal warning signs. According to data I have read, New York is in worse shape than Connecticut, Ohio, Arkansas, Utah and Missouri, among others, but currently in better shape than California (thank goodness), which has been forced to issue IOUs, release prisoners to cut down on criminal imprisonment spending and had to sell some state buildings.

The state has limited ways to acquire money, none of which are popular. It can raise taxes, borrow money (adding more to the deficit) or improvise with one-shot ways to acquire money (license plates). To limit spending, the state can cut programs, employees or entire departments, none of which are popular ideas. School aid and health care make up over 55 percent of the budget and there is great resistance from both the Legislature and the populace to cut either one. Both Democrats and Republicans are opposed to cutting school aid especially.

Time for compromise

So what is anyone to do? Compromise seems to be the only solution. Getting some heads together (hopefully more than three) and pounding out a budget that works. I think it can be done, but we’d all have to take a hit. The governor tried with the license plate (dare I say) fiasco and the backlash was tremendous. It would have raised $129 million or so.

The governor backed off from the plan, but wants the Legislature to raise the money in another way. So far, the Legislature has come up mute. He has also lowered school aid cuts to try to compromise, but no movement from the Legislature so far.

In fact after three weeks of an extraordinary session that was supposed to address the deficit (at $70,000 a day to keep meeting), no action was taken by the Legislature. Instead, they went home for Thanksgiving.

After much pressure from the governor, the Legislature did pass that $2.7 billion deficit reduction plan last week. Much of the money comes from local assistance programs, including $156.8 million in transit programs; $112 million reduction in mental hygiene programs; $41.2 million in health care; $36.9 million in education aid; and $18.1 million in social services.

Of course, the Legislature is heavily lobbied by special interest groups and often their very jobs depend on defending the interests of the special interests. As Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters said: “It’s always about lobbyists and the money they give to the system to keep these guys elected.”

The governor, in a similar vein said, “We must put these politics aside and put the people of our state first — not the special interests” and “it’s better to cut now than to gut later.”

Paterson’s spokesman, Morgan Hook, asked the senators to put out a press release about “what they will cut, not what they won’t cut.” Even the governor threatened to make the cuts himself, but was scoffed at by the Republican leader of the Senate, Dean Skelos, as “King David Paterson.” Just more governor-bashing. At least Assembly Majority Leader Ronald Canestrari called it “excellent . . . helpful . . . leadership.”

I do hope Gov. Paterson’s fall in the polls can be seen for what it is. It’s based on fear — of losing jobs, services, programs, paying higher taxes and making the difficult decisions.

I hope it’s not about license plates, gay marriage (the Senate voted down a bill on same-sex marriage this past Wednesday) appointing a lieutenant governor (he was vindicated in the courts), or worse. As he has said, “the warnings are clear and those who choose to ignore them do so at their own peril.”

I believe he took the responsibility that was handed to him in the middle of a political and economic mess and accepted it, took it seriously and faithfully and has done it well.

Five reasons

I, for one, will vote for Gov. Paterson in the next election. Following are my top five reasons for doing so:

5. Andrew Cuomo is a fine attorney general, a man with integrity and a do-er. I like his style and the things he’s done. But I like him as attorney general. There is no guarantee that a capable attorney general will make a good governor. The last time we replaced one with the other, it didn’t work out so well.

4. Rudy Giuliani was a good mayor, especially being in the right place at the right time on 9/11. He did a fine job then and did himself proud, but that doesn’t make him a governor. Also, it looks as though he has his eyes on the Senate instead. Plus, he was on the wrong side in the last presidential election.

3. Rick Lazio who?

2. A cowardly and do-nothing Legislature, although they did manage to pass a bill last week to reduce the deficit. I’m anxiously waiting to see how, or even if, they support it among the localities and the lobbyists.

1. Gov. Paterson is a man of integrity. He faces an impossible task. I don’t know who can solve it, but I’m willing to give him another term to try. He certainly cares more about New York state than his poll numbers. He must feel the strains of Atlas at times, holding the state on his shoulders.

But my No. 1 reason for supporting for him is simple — he is the bravest man in Albany.

Anthony Frank lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Gazette Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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