Back in 1975, as he took office, I heard Gov. Hugh Carey warn the Legislature and the people of New York: “The times of plenty, the days of wine and roses are over.”
Thirty-five years later, Gov. David Paterson is trying to send a similar message to the Legislature but so far, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
No one can fault this governor for not having courage. He doesn’t fear to tell the truth, as he sees it. But the question is: will the Legislature listen?
In his budget address, the governor asked for about a billion dollars in new or increased taxes and fees -- and proposed the largest cut in school aid in more than two decades. He would reduce school spending by about a billion dollars and health care by a similar amount. Among his other proposals are: legalizing ultimate fighting, allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores, taxing cigarette sales on Indian reservations and deploying speed-enforcement cameras in highway work zones.
This 134 billion dollar budget is bound to stir strident criticism from Assembly and Senate members. But what will they propose, if anything, as alternatives?
Paterson said: “The mistakes of the past -- squandering surpluses, papering over deficits, relying on irresponsible fiscal gimmicks to finance unsustainable spending increases have led us to a financial breaking point. There are no more easy answers.”
The governor wants to reduce school aid by 5 percent and impose a new tax on sugared sodas and soft-drink syrup. He wants the state excise tax on packs of cigarettes to be raised $1, to $3.75.
Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester told me the governor’s budget address was short on specifics. He is confident the Legislature will improve on the governor’s proposals but adds “it’s too soon to tell” just how.
Democratic Senator Carl Kruger denounced the massive cuts in health and education programs. He said: “I don’t think the system can stomach them.”
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, called the budget “grim,” adding: “Our state cannot continue to make budget promises in April that cannot be kept in the cold fiscal reality of December.”
DiNapoli was even-handed. He didn’t praise or reject the governor’s proposal but, instead, contented himself with warning both Democrats and the wounds in this fiscal crisis were “self-inflicted.”
Edmund McMahon of the conservative Manhattan Institute warned that Paterson “hasn’t gone nearly far enough to curb spending.”
Inevitably, the Republicans in the legislature will oppose Paterson’s budget. But with friends like he has in his own party, does he need enemies?
David Paterson reminds you of General Custer --surrounded by enemies on all sides. He may need all the help he can get to avoid making this his last stand.