Sometimes, it takes a crisis to move politicians.
New York state government has been spending wildly for years. Legislators have caved in to special interests, pumped truckloads of money into non-essential state programs, merrily handed out member-item (pork barrel) grants to constituents in their districts, allowed the state work force to become monstrously huge, and have shown little budgetary foresight as they dedicate money to state and local projects.
Meanwhile, local property and sales taxes, along with numerous state fees, have surged in recent years. Now - as the state's economy takes a frightening fall, the projected deficit grows to $6.4 billion, gas and home-heating costs shatter the ceiling and citizens struggle to pay their bills - the state's unbridled government spending is getting attention.
Gov. David Paterson this week took measures to reduce costs. He ordered a 7 percent cut in agency spending and a "hard freeze" on hiring, which means state job openings must be deemed essential by the governor's office before they can be filled. He also called the Legislature back to Albany for an emergency economic session Aug. 19 to enact $600 million in additional cuts that require the Legislature's approval. The governor could lay off state employees if the Legislature fails to meet the cost-cutting target.
The reductions, which would trim $1.23 billion, or 2 percent, from the $56.3 billion general fund in the state budget, would be a start, but more measures are necessary.
Unfortunately, too many elected state leaders are more concerned about their own agendas than in what's best for the state. When it's obvious state government is too big and is spending and taxing too much, some legislators call for even larger government and more spending to satisfy their own palates.
Most of us realize government needs to go on a crash diet - not just state government, either. Local governments and school districts also partake in supersized spending. On all levels in New York, government must shrink.
If leaders look beyond the tips of their noses and think about the health of New York state as a whole, they'll see the existing big-government approach could lead New York to financial collapse.
State legislators should reduce non-essential services, put a stop to unnecessary capital projects, freeze all new hiring, offer buyouts to encourage early retirements, cut some jobs, and bring salaries to a realistic level. Legislators should start by cutting their own pay by 20 percent.
Such measures would put the state on a stronger economic footing.