George Pataki: Can He Get Any Worse?

George Pataki has been noncommittal about whether he’ll seek a fourth term as Governor of New York, preferring to fan speculation that he may seek higher office. A wiser choice would be to retire to his Peekskill estate and become a bird watcher, or perhaps find work as a consultant to the many hacks he has indulged and coddled during his time in Albany. Should Mr. Pataki choose to run for re-election, or for some other public office, he’ll need a campaign the likes of which the country has never seen to gloss over the damage he’s done to New York State.

Take the Governor’s new budget … please! As State Comptroller Alan Hevesi reports, Mr. Pataki’s budget for the 2005-6 fiscal year is a disaster waiting to happen. Balanced on reckless spending, risky ploys and new borrowing, Mr. Pataki’s plan may result in annual budget gaps of $11 billion in three years. Rather than make the hard choices that could bring some degree of economic stability, or compel his cronies, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to work with him to straighten out the profound mess the three of them have created, the Governor is setting the state on a primrose path of self-destruction.

As the Comptroller noted, Mr. Pataki’s budget contains $3.7 billion in one-shot revenues-such as converting Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield into a for-profit company-which do nothing for long-term fiscal health and instead pile debt onto the backs of future generations of taxpayers. Mr. Hevesi also called the Governor’s bluff over his attempt to count a $367 million cut to the state pension fund as a savings. And he pointed out that the scheme for restructuring highway and bridge bonds to achieve short-term savings would swell the debt by $2.1 billion over the next 30 years.

This is not the first time, of course, that Mr. Pataki has shown a reckless disregard for New York’s economic well-being or indulged Albany’s borrow-and-spend sprees. He’s routinely ignored the requirement in the State Constitution that voters have to approve state borrowing; he’s allowed irresponsible growth in Medicaid spending; he’s issued bonds based on future revenues from tobacco settlements; he’s treated the Debt Reform Act of 2000 as a joke. Thanks to Mr. Pataki’s arrogance and incompetence, Mr. Hevesi projects that the state’s current debt load of about $49 billion will rise to $54.6 billion in five years. For those who like to keep track, the state’s debt load was $27.6 billion-about half its current amount-in 1995, the year Georgie-boy moved into the Governor’s mansion.

Mr. Pataki may have gotten himself re-elected twice by ignoring reality and throwing money at voters, but he is bound to leave a legacy as a fiscal dunce-a legacy that will surely supersede his desire to be known as a tax-cutting Governor with a case to be made for higher office.

Kalikow Puts the M.T.A. On the Right Track

There was very little in Peter Kalikow’s career to indicate that he would emerge as an independent and vital advocate for public transportation and, as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, would be in the right place at the right time to make a difference for subway and bus riders.

As it turns out, Mr. Kalikow has proven to be a determined friend of this city’s straphangers, making their priorities his priorities. In doing so, he surely has given Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki cause to wonder how this Republican Party fund-raiser managed to transcend partisan politics to become a true public servant in the best sense of the phrase.

Mr. Kalikow-a real-estate developer and former publisher of the New York Post-certainly didn’t have to take the course he has chosen as chairman of the M.T.A. He could have been a mere echo of the man who appointed him, Mr. Pataki. Instead, he found his own voice and has not been shy about using it. He understands that the M.T.A. is a vital lifeline for the entire New York region and cannot be allowed to become a political football. For example, he believes that the M.T.A. shouldn’t simply deed over the West Side rail yards to the New York Jets for a new stadium just because the Mayor is pushing the project. The site, which the M.T.A. owns, should go to the highest bidder. That makes eminent sense, but sense and politics do not always appear in the same sentence, especially when the matter at hand is land use. And Mr. Kalikow was nothing if not blunt when he termed the Jets’ bid of $100 million for the valuable site an “insult.”

The M.T.A. is strapped for cash, and subway and bus riders absorbed fare increases this week to help cover the agency’s deficits, which are projected at $1 billion a year beginning in 2008. In the meantime, Mr. Pataki is operating under a policy of malign neglect, slashing away at state aid to the M.T.A., threatening service cuts and a scaling-back of the agency’s ambitious capital program. Mr. Pataki plans to spend $2.5 billion less than the $17.2 billion the M.T.A. believes it needs over the next five years to keep service at an acceptable level.

Mr. Kalikow has criticized the Governor’s flawed funding policies and continues to agitate for such needed projects as the Second Avenue subway. He is winning praise from mass-transportation advocates for being a stand-up guy.

Every now and again, somebody like Mr. Kalikow comes along to remind us that public service is not an oxymoron, and that even partisan fund-raisers can put aside their personal and political agendas when given a chance to make an impact on public policy.

The City or the Burbs?

So you’re thinking about moving to the suburbs, where the open space, green grass, trees, fresh air and slower pace of life will do wonders for the mental and physical well-being of yourself, your spouse and your kids? Well, you might not want to put your co-op on the market just yet. New research shows that suburbanites tend to be more afflicted with high blood pressure, headaches, migraines, breathing problems and arthritis than their urban peers. It turns out that the land of soccer moms and S.U.V.’s is hell on your health.

The new study, conducted by an economist and a physician at the RAND Corporation, found that surbubanites suffered more than city dwellers from an assortment of chronic ills, even when factors such as economic status and weather were accounted for. Why? Simply put, those living in the burbs aren’t getting enough exercise, because they’re using their cars to get from door to door. It seems that even the short daily walks which New Yorkers take to the subway, or to and from the deli, help maintain a level of health which is quickly lost once one becomes car-bound. Even if suburbanites hit the gym or tennis courts on the weekends, it doesn’t make up for the health gained from a short daily stroll. Indeed, a 2003 survey found that while 42.3 percent of Manhattanites said they were overweight, 52 percent of residents of Fairfield County and 53.6 percent of those living in Westchester reported that they needed to lose a few pounds.

The RAND study pointed to the sprawl factor as being the key measure: The more sprawling a city or suburb, the more one uses a car, with a corresponding decline in health. Among American cities, New York is certainly the most compact city with the least sprawl, and thus probably the healthiest place to live in the country.

Maybe this is why the commuters seem more depressed than the local yokels.