Pataki’s Prattle


Carl McCall is one of New York’s many unemployed now, thank you. To reach him you call his wife, Joyce Brown, the president of the Fashion Institute of Technology. After a career as a legislator, ambassador, school board president, Citibank executive, and state comptroller, the 67-year-old gubernatorial wannabe is resting, considering his options, and reading the newspapers. It’s the papers that are giving him agita.

They have finally stopped screaming about the job letter he wrote for his daughter and started to pay attention to a George Pataki fiscal crisis that will leave tens of thousands of New York’s sons and daughters without a job at all. For example, one of the three recent Daily News editorials to denounce Pataki started with a quote from a prominent New York businessman who said that “the governor is for sale” and that he “spent billions in public money getting re-elected,” leaving the cupboard bare now. The page that endorsed the governor just three months ago chimed in: “A lot of people would agree.”

That’s tougher on Pataki than Gentleman Carl ever was or will be. “The media let the governor off the hook,” McCall told the Voice. “They didn’t press him and hold him accountable. He acted like everything was fine and the media let him get away with it.” McCall says he would critique Pataki policies during the campaign and “maybe get a line” in the papers. “They decided every day what the story was and they had some gossipy thing.

“His budget doesn’t hang together,” said the ex-comptroller, whose thoughtful, 60-page analysis of the governor’s fiscal debacle last June went uncovered. “He’s trying to do it with deep cuts and no new revenue, hoping the Democrats will force him to raise revenues. He wants to blame someone else.”

Asked about the endorsements Pataki garnered from teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten and health workers’ honcho Dennis Rivera, the ever diplomatic McCall wouldn’t use their names but left no doubt about the mistake he thinks they made: “Education leaders should’ve known that he really doesn’t care about education. Leaders in the health care field ignored the warnings that he would do things that are damaging to the needy. They supported him without ever questioning him about where his plan was.”

Even when McCall gets past the budget revisionism that dominates Pataki coverage, he’s still upset. “We said that the state’s evacuation plan at Indian Point was totally flawed, and now everyone acknowledges that it’s flawed. We put out a report in March that Pataki had diverted the surcharge funds to create an emergency 911 system and nobody paid any attention to it. Now, with the drowning of the four boys, everyone’s saying it. I think Alan Hevesi is doing the right thing to subpoena the MTA records. I said they were keeping the finances secret. But if I’d subpoenaed the records, it would’ve been seen as a political thing.”

The pirouette that the papers are doing was predictable. They knew they’d be doing it when they endorsed Pataki, as surely as they knew that the election-year budget he was running on was a fraud. They knew that last year’s hidden caveat would become this year’s horror-story headline, and were quite willing to sacrifice their credibility with readers for their compacts with power.

The budget that Pataki has proposed shuts the classroom door on 60,000 Pre-K and 27,000 kindergarten kids, overcrowds K-through-3 classes with 50,000 additional kids, eliminates after-school for 80,000, slaps the largest tuition increase in history on state university students while slicing assistance programs by a third, ends Family Health Plus coverage for 22,000 low-income adults, and spurs a $1.6 billion cut in federal, state, and local Medicaid expenditures by slashing New York’s matching contribution by $640 million.

While the billions in combined education and Medicaid cuts are Pataki’s largest, his budget also stoops to the petty, saving $20 million by refusing to pass through to the elderly and disabled a $14-a-month Supplemental Security Income cost-of-living increase provided by the federal government, using it instead to plug a state SSI hole.

Some of these cuts would happen regardless of who was governor, and some are a consequence of recession and 9-11 factors beyond the governor’s control. But many are a direct result of the 6.9 percent increase in spending that he and legislative leaders Shelly Silver and Joe Bruno adopted in the pre-election budget for the current fiscal year, as well as the 6.6 percent hike they agreed to for the 2001-02 budget a month after 9-11. Many are also a consequence of the tax-base-gouging rampages of the Pataki years, which now collectively account for $14 billion less in state revenue. Had the governor and the leaders faced up to their two-pronged, unsustainable binge sooner, the current $11.5 billion gap would be far less.

Instead, all we hear from the-governor-who-will-never-again-face-New York-voters is that he will not support “job-killing tax increases.” He offers not a whit of evidence that a boost in the state income tax would kill a single job, though the assembly estimates that his education and Medicaid cuts will cost 100,000 jobs, including teachers, hospital workers, home care helpers, and nursing- home staff. All the governor relies on is anecdote, claiming that the tax cuts he pushed through the legislature in 1995 jump-started the state economy, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Actually, the state gained 100,000 jobs in 1993-94, while Mario Cuomo was governor, and another 60,000 in 1995, before Pataki’s tax cuts went into effect. Job gains dropped to 46,500 in 1996, the first full year of the cuts, when national employment was growing at nearly four times the New York pace.

In fact, New York job growth lagged behind the national rate for every Pataki year except 1999, when it marginally exceeded it. National employment grew by 12.6 percent between 1995 and 2001, while New York’s grew by 8.8 percent, suggesting that it was national economic trends, not Pataki tax cuts, that were prompting growth. Pataki’s ideological appropriation of state jobs data is best illustrated by the press releases his top economic adviser, Steve Kagann, posted during the boom, which attributed “the vast majority of the new jobs” to the “substantial program of state tax cuts which began in 1995.” Kagann’s most recent release, however, starts by ascribing state job losses to “the lingering effects of the national recession.”

A recent Times story depicted Pataki’s refusal to boost taxes as consistent with the strategies of neighboring governors Jim McGreevey (Democrat) of New Jersey and John Rowland (Republican) of Connecticut. However, while McGreevey is resisting tax increases this year, he put through almost a billion in corporate increases last year, precisely when New York should have been taking early action to stop the bleeding. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said New Jersey was one of six states whose tax hikes exceeded 3 percent of their budget, and that McGreevey’s closing of corporate loopholes “represents the most significant attempt to do so by any state.”

Rowland proposed a dollar in tax increases for every dollar in spending reductions, including a tax on millionaires, noting that they were the sort of tax hikes that he’d “opposed throughout my time in public service.” Rowland is hardly alone among Republican governors—Sonny Perdue (Georgia), Bob Taft (Ohio), Kenny Guinn (Nevada), and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) proposed new taxes. Dirk Kempthorne, the governor of Idaho who is the top Republican in the Governor’s Association, is pushing for the largest increase in state history. Pataki’s refusal aligns him with Florida friend Jeb Bush and the other Bush in the White House, the only audience our governor cares about these days.

Pataki would do well to take a page from Huckabee, who took office the same year Pataki did, signed the first ever broad-based tax cut in Arkansas history, and now wants a hike. He told the legislature in January: “Talk-show hosts and columnists can afford to offer simple answers and ideological platitudes. You cannot. You’ve not been elected to engage in empty slogans or bumper sticker doctrines.”

Research assistance: Cathy Bussewitz, Felicia Mello, Solana Pyne, E.B. Solomont, and Steven I. Weiss

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