In six decades of public life, Richard Ravitch has earned a reputation for political savvy and business skills. In 1975, when New York City was having a fiscal meltdown, he assisted Governor Hugh Carey in orchestrating changes that avoided bankruptcy. In 2008, after Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned and was replaced by David Paterson, Ravitch agreed to fill in as lieutenant governor. His first assignment, study and recommend changes to the state’s troubled non-conforming budgeting process.
His findings, as published in “So Much To Do,” are enough to scare the be-Jesus (an old Irish expression) out of even the most fervent political observer. Budgeters in both the state’s executive and legislative branches of government had perfected the art of evading balanced-budget requirements in order to fulfill what they saw as their public responsibilities. The use of deceptive budgeting and borrowing practices that actually masked results’ and policy decisions that were skillfully engineered to keep a crisis from occurring, even as the underlying problems grow worse.
When he presented his findings to the governor and his chief of staff Larry Schwartz, they had no particular reaction. No even an at-a-boy. It was all downhill from there. He was chided by a member of the executive branch for discussing his plan with the legislature i.e. “outrages” behavior, and told by an Albany correspondent that then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo opposed his recommendations giving no explanation. Regrouping, he realized, as stated in his book “Changes of this magnitude would impose immediate pain on a whole population of state politicians forcing contemplation of raising taxes and/ or cutting services, precisely the actions they need to avoid.”
Are we being short-sheeted by the power brokers in office then and now? The answer is obviously yes! Numerous reports issued by Office of State Comptroller continue to consider the budgeting process a “shell game” with years’ of findings now gathering dust in the archives of our state capital.
The complicit rejection of real reform is not the least bit sustainable and the dynamics of market forces will eventually prevail. Medicaid spending alone, which was excess of $52 billion in 2013 (half of which is borne by the Federal government) is growing exponentially as new applicants file under the Affordable Care Act, and new General Accounting Standard Board requirements will require state and local governments to add retiree benefit promises, and pension obligations to their already tortured balance sheets.
In March of 2012 (some two years’ after Ravitch released his findings) Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and then Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos issued a joint statement proudly announcing the early passage of “an honest budget with no new taxes, fees or gimmicks.” Wow!