What’s with the numbers?

In Columns by Hal Peterson0 Comments

On November 10, in the course of a radio interview, Governor Cuomo remarked “that his sky-high poll numbers are less about him personally and more about the renewed pride New Yorkers are taking in state government since he took office.” He also commented that “I don’t know people who don’t say, boy the government is working better now.”

Obviously, the governor is enjoying a bit of exuberance in proclaiming both “renewed pride” and improved efficiency in state government, an exercise of relativism, at best.

The governor also noted that the good vibes he expressed did not extend to the state’s finances. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say the numbers are worrisome and doesn’t say the numbers are dropping off rapidly.” These convoluted quotes are straining my Word Processing editing software!

So, what’s the problem? The National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) just released a report that captures “discretionary spending of revenues derived from general sources which have not been earmarked for other purposes.” The four major components identified are Medicaid, elementary and secondary education, higher education and transportation.

Medicaid spending alone siphons off 23.6 percent of state budget allocations, a reflection of escalating enrollment, higher health care costs, the loss of additional federal funds associated with the Recovery Act and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In my last column, I mentioned that our own budget director, Robert Megna also issued a statement identifying both current and future shortfalls. How worrisome? Consider the following. The DOB estimates that New York’s spending will increase by $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2012; and, there is also ample evidence that previously set revenue collection forecasts will not be met.

With a new budget due on January 18, the governor mentioned that further pension reform, agency consolidation, the redrawing of legislative district lines, a possible push to legalize gambling and potentially tax reform, promises to dominate the upcoming year.

Where this all headed is anyone’s guess. When he took office last January, the governor said he would pay particular attention to “reinvent, reorganize and redesign government,” the savings from which are already factored into his current enacted budget.

To take some lyrics from Kenny Rogers great hit song, “The Gambler,” my advice to the governor is simple.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away, know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

In New Year, we will continue to witness the need for changes in both policies and practices with unpredictable results and consequences. Of particular concern is the political landscape of New York (past and present) that has never been a proving ground for real reform.

It is my hope that I have been able to describe some of the obvious issues in a reasonable and well founded manner, for the enjoyment and benefit of the readers of the Herald. Enjoy the holidays and have a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

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