In New York at the moment our local politicians are playing a spirited game of pass the buck. As I write this, no less than three state budgets exist, one each for the Assembly, Senate and Governor, as they bicker over how much and where to wield the axe.
The central character in this play is the newly elected Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“We can turn this crisis into an opportunity” and “use this moment to transform government,” he said at his State of the State address in January, sounding ever so slightly reminiscent of Governor Walker of Wisconsin.
So what does transformation of government look like? Apparently it means things like government layoffs, wage freezes, and cuts to education and Medicaid that are on such a grand scale they are almost unfathomable. Under this scheme, cuts in spending must “of course” be balanced by cuts in taxation. It might not mathematically make sense, but never mind that. Cuomo proposed a freeze on taxation, a cap on local property taxes, and is refusing to renew NY’s so-called “Millionaire’s Tax,” which was enacted two years ago to help the state during the financial crisis.
“I was happy to see him approach the challenges like a CEO, looking at government problems through a management lens,” millionaire Mayor Bloomberg said after the speech.
A month later, Cuomo returned to announce his budget in more detail. He remained true to his mission statement. Planned spending on Medicaid programs and local school aid will each be cut by $2.85 billion. The likely loss of federal matching funds will roughly double the Medicaid cut, and the schools will also be hit with the end of the federal stimulus money which had somewhat cushioned them from previous cuts.
In addition to the central attack on education, the governor took time out to attack disabled children, cutting $98 million by removing state funding from 11 special schools – the so-called 4201 schools – which provide specialized services for more than 1,500 children who are too severely disabled to be “mainstreamed” into the general student population.
He also saved $51 million by cutting $35 million from a New York City program that provides housing subsidies to homeless people who find stable jobs and leave shelters, in addition to cutting $16 million from the shelters themselves.
Having attacked the young, the ailing, the homeless and the disabled, he managed to find plenty of room for the elderly, closing senior centers across the state, and veterans, cutting the Long Island State Veterans Home budget by $4.7 million.
Expectations that a Democratic governor might govern in the interests of working people have been dashed. Unlike Governor Walker, Cuomo is not interested in attacking the unions head on, preferring to negotiate with them as he attacks their members’ pay and pensions and cuts public services to the bone.