Gov. David Paterson’s announcement of plans to lay off nearly 9,000 state workers this summer will probably make him even less popular politically than he already was, but it’s hard not to admire him at least a little for sticking to his guns on the state budget.
Paterson’s popularity ratings are in the dumper, to be sure — even lower than Eliot Spitzer’s at his nadir. And no doubt part of the reason has been his hard line on the state budget deficit, which, thanks to the rotten economy, has swelled by another $2 billion, to $16 billion, for next year. New York hasn’t faced this kind of fiscal crunch in decades, and the governor’s budget tried to address it in earnest. Unfortunately, legislators (and the state workers’ unions) have refused to cooperate.
Lawmakers have already killed or are likely to kill such revenue-producing plans as the obesity tax, the sales tax on theater tickets, golf fees and massages, the cap on tax payments to towns with forest preserve land, etc. And state workers have essentially mocked the governor for suggesting that they forgo previously negotiated pay raises or defer their paychecks a week, buying hundreds of thousands of dollars of television commercials to protest the proposed cuts. What choice does Paterson have but to impose layoffs? The state cannot legally run deficits the way the federal government can, borrowing to close the gap — as has been done in the past — would be ruinous, and there’s just no way to use gimmicks or smoke and mirrors with this much money.
While adding thousands to the unemployment rolls in a deep recession is ill advised, cruel even, there appears to be no other choice — unless the unions relent on givebacks and the Legislature softens on cuts. The state simply can’t get by with a business-as-usual budget this year.