The budget that drives New York's government is late again. A crushing $9.2 billion deficit threatens the state's solvency. Special interests are flexing their considerable muscle, and the Legislature is on its Passover-Easter vacation.
Who would want to be governor?
Candidates who do want the job say they have some establishment-shaking ideas. Many of their proposals are unheard of in hidebound Albany, a land of powerful special interests and career politicians where it's said good ideas go to die.
Republicans fighting for the attention of party bosses and voters say they would resort to some radical measures if they were governor today.
Steve Levy wants to appoint an independent control board to finally make the tough fiscal decisions politicians haven't. Rick Lazio says he is willing to deny lawmakers $170 million in pork-barrel grants for projects in their home district this election year. Carl Paladino is promising to cut taxes by 10 percent, and Warren Redlich wants to cap public sector salaries at $100,000 a year.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the only potential Democratic candidate to surface so far, has continued to refuse to say what he would do as governor, even as he throws governor-sized fundraisers.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, handling the request made to Cuomo's campaign, said Cuomo wants "fundamental fiscal reform." That includes capping taxes and no tax increases "at this time," but he wouldn't offer details. Cuomo has said he is concentrating on his job as attorney general.
As for Lazio, he would cut the Legislature's break short by two days.
"On Monday, it's back to work," Lazio said. "Nobody leaves until we have a budget ... every day they delay and are not achieving these savings and balance is a day the problem grows and becomes that much more difficult to tackle."
Levy said he would also declare "a fiscal state of emergency," said Levy, a conservative Democrat running as a Republican. "That would allow us to take extraordinary measures."
Republican Warren Redlich, a lawyer from Albany County, would cap almost all public salaries at $100,000, including teachers and school administrators, and cap future pensions to $75,000 a year.
"You know what? If you don't like it, you can find another job," Redlich said. "It's not rocket science."
Paladino, a millionaire Buffalo developer who promises to fund much of his own campaign, says he'll serve only four years.
"I am not politically correct," he said. "I will seek legislative help. However, under my powers I will chop and I will chop their budget until they stop their nonsense."
As critical as this juncture is in New York, fiscal projections indicate the next governor will face a potentially worse fiscal crisis.
Levy would establish the same kind of financial control board credited with saving New York City, Buffalo and some counties from bankruptcy by taking the hard fiscal decisions away from the politicians.
"I would create an independent board that would compile all of the tough medicine: Budget reform and spending restraint that had been swept under the rug for years and put it into one bill," Levy said.
He'd said he'd do it without borrowing and by opening up labor contracts and withholding aid if he determined the state couldn't afford the spending. He would roll that along with capping state spending and local property taxes at inflation and other measures into a single public vote by the Legislature to "either save New York or see it go into bankruptcy."
Lazio said he would have pressured this year's Legislature to act on bills required to give New York a better shot at $700 million in federal education reform grants. Lazio said he would have cut off pork-barrel spending for lawmakers who failed to act on the bills that included increasing charter schools. New York missed out on the grant this week.
Lazio, who has the backing of Conservative party leaders, said he would veto any spending or borrowing increase and drive public labor unions to concessions or layoffs, while cutting about $1 billion from the state's $21 billion in annual school aid. He would also seek copays from Medicaid recipients seeking care for minor issues to encourage them to use less expensive primary care under a managed care system.
He said he also would have gathered experts in finance and racing to recommend a vendor for video slot machines at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, a long-delayed project that could bring in $200 million a year.
Paladino said besides cutting taxes by 10 percent he would close the state's borders to welfare recipients, and freeze all state and local government and school wages. He said he would cut the budget across the board if necessary and seek the resignation of the state Board of Regents, which sets school policy; and remove the State University of New York Board of Trustees as part of a plan to overhaul education spending.
Redlich's idea to cap state and local salaries at $100,000 would mean pay cuts to thousands of management and confidential employees in Albany and in local governments, except for physicians, judges and some other specialized professionals. But exceptions would be subject to a vote by residents of the municipality or state.