New York State Gov. David Paterson (L) and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) listen during a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill Oct. 29, 2008, in Washington, D.C.
College tuition up $600. Local school districts down $600 million. Medicaid spending cut $600 million from the original projection. Next year's state employees raises put on hold.
Those are a few of the ways Gov. David Paterson wants to close the now $1.5 billion budget gap that has opened over the last few months.
Paterson had hoped Albany's legislative leaders would present their own proposals last week but none did. As a result, Paterson has made his own proposals and will push for them to be adopted during next week's emergency economic legislative session.
In laying out the cuts, Paterson warned, "they will be painful. Our families and businesses have learned to adjust and now our government must do the same."
While advocates and many legislators have preemptively argued some areas like education are sacrosanct, Paterson said the options are very narrow since education and health care consume well more than half the state's budget.
In all Paterson's proposals total roughly $2 billion in cuts for this fiscal year (which ends March 31, 2009) growing to $3.2 billion next year when the projected deficit is a staggering $12.5 billion.
Before you get up in arms over the "cuts" to schools and health care remember that both budgets will actually grow even with these proposals. How so? Because both budgets were set to grow by significant amounts.
So in school aid, for instance, the plan would cut $585 million from what was a $1.6 billion hike in school aid. So if the Paterson proposal was adopted school aid will increase by "only" $1 billion or 5 percent.
Paterson's budget director further argued that New York spends both historically and nationally high amounts in both areas on a per capita basis. So even with the "cuts" the state will be spending as much or more per student or patient as any state in the nation.
What about raising some taxes or fees? Not right now says Paterson. He insisted that any tax increase is off the table because that would make the economic problems even worse.
That being said he is asking for the Legislature to increase the scope of the bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverages like Snapple and bottled water. That's gone nowhere in the past but its worth $118 million a year so the Legislature might find it more attractive than the alternatives.
As for layoffs of state workers Paterson says he doesn't want to do that but it will have to be on the table if the unions don't agree to his proposal to put off next year's wage increase.
Politically, though, Paterson appears to be the lonely voice in the Albany maelstrom. The Assembly may not want to do anything that will upset their allies in the unions and industries effected. Republicans in the Senate lost their majority in the elections and so are lame duck leaders also unlikely to want to do the Democratic Governor any favors. And no lawmakers want to go back to their districts and tell their constituents they voted to "cut" school aid.
So the big question is, will anything really come of the special session next week? If not Paterson's December 15th budget proposal for next year will be a doomsday document.