Paterson Draws Blood

David Paterson is proving to be a bold governor. He has taken the lead in mobilizing and educating the public and other elected officials about the need to cut state expenditures and prepare for the consequences of a slowdown in state tax revenues. While his quip about state lawmakers being “Draculas” and “bloodsuckers” earned him the cover of the New York Post this week, and grumbling from some legislators that the governor was skating into Spitzer territory, the real news is that Mr. Paterson is exceeding expectations in his willingness to deal directly with the state’s dire fiscal conditions. 

In a speech Tuesday morning at the New York Hilton, Governor Paterson pointed out that state expenditures have been growing faster than revenues and that the effects of the national recession will be felt in the coming year when the layoffs and reduced bonuses from Wall Street firms deplete the state’s tax revenue. Unfortunately, business and income tax revenues, which have grown in recent years, can no longer provide the cushion to pay for public services provided by the state. Under Governor George Pataki, state spending grew enormously, and now Governor Paterson is facing the consequences of the increases in school and health care expenditures.

Resisting the temptation to pander with cheap, and ultimately costly, gimmicks such as selling assets to pay for operations, Governor Paterson believes the state cannot weather the coming storm without major reductions in spending. He also understands that taxes may need to be part of any package, but that taxes alone are not the solution. For example, we applaud him for calling on Richard Ravitch to propose new ways to raise money for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, recognizing that the current M.T.A. leadership simply lacks the capacity to solve the problem.

We encourage Governor Paterson to keep the pressure on the State Legislature and make sure they do not walk away from the table, as historically they’ve tended to do when provided any excuse, including weak executive leadership. 

As for that “Draculas” quote, well, Mr. Paterson knows Albany as well as any governor in recent memory, having been a legislator for so long. Surely he’s earned the right to rib his colleagues. And remember that the governor does not share Eliot Spitzer’s contempt for lawmakers and the lawmaking process; it’s unlikely he’ll end up poisoning relations with the legislative branch.