Read My Lips

Pataki's No-Tax Vow Is Salt to City's Wounds

The newspapers that endorsed Pataki are supposed to be voices for this city and its people. Yet he was given a pass when he failed in both his inaugural and State of the State speeches to say a word—even his usual banal generalities—about what he will do for a city he constantly invokes for its 9-11 symbolic value.

The only "aid" the governor appears prepared to give the city is severe Medicaid cuts—precisely what he did in 1995, the budget crisis he repeatedly cites as proof that he knows how to handle one. When the governor proposes his budget in the next few weeks, expect him to push for cuts in Medicaid-covered services, which are paid for by matching federal, state, and city dollars. If the state cuts half a billion in Medicaid expenses, the city will automatically save hundreds of millions in matching funds.

Bloomberg's top deputy mayor, Mark Shaw, was Rudy Giuliani's budget director in 1995, when Pataki sought $800 million in Medicaid and welfare cuts, and Giuliani was so appreciative he asked for $400 million more. While Bloomberg is fixated on the state picking up the city's share—which no other state requires—Shaw said in 1995 that Pataki's cuts provided "five times more budgetary relief" than a gradual state takeover would have. Don't be surprised if Pataki, joined by the inexplicably obsequious Bloomberg, finds a way to describe a sharp reduction in state Medicaid funding for the city as if it were aid.

Since the near bankruptcy of the mid '70s, New Yorkers have heard alarms every time a governor or mayor has proposed a budget, even in years of surplus. By now we think gaps are as endemic with budgets as lies are with politicians. The cuts that are frequently used to frighten us aren't cuts at all, just reductions in the projected rate of expenditure growth. But this time the theater is really ablaze. Even the actors are in shock, especially the guy at center stage who talks out of the side of his tilted mouth.

Since George Pataki cannot raise taxes without disproportionately affecting the well-to-do classes his tax cuts disproportionately benefited, he will find ways to shift the burden to people he is more comfortable punishing, starting with the 150,000 students whose striving, moderate-income families support them at state universities. Though New York's tuition and fees already are among the highest in the land, Pataki raised them in 1995, was blocked by the legislature twice since then, and thinks hard-pressed parents will find a way to pay the price. The one thing he knows is that his new constituency—the national right-wing elites—won't hear their bellows, or care about their sacrifice.

Our governor has moved on.


Research assistance: Solana Pyne, Steven I. Weiss, Cathy Bussewitz

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