False Advertising

New York State’s public employee unions are taking their campaign against Governor David Paterson’s budget to a television near you. In recent days, the unions have launched a series of scary commercials designed to make you think that the governor’s cuts will result in needless death and destruction.

Pretty typical fare, but disappointing all the same. While the unions have every right to air their opinions and to cast aspersions on a public official who has been friendly to them in the past, you’d think they’d show a little bit more statesmanship given the enormity of the state’s fiscal crisis.

Instead, the teachers’ union is airing commercials that assert the governor’s budget is endangering the dreams of parents and children alike. Other spots show images of a parent trying to find medical help for a dangerously ill child, only to find the local hospital closed.

Missing in these spots is an acknowledgment of fiscal reality. The governor’s office insists that if spending is not reduced—drastically—the state deficit over the next few years will be a catastrophic $38 billion. Albany has to do something now in order to head off an even worse nightmare in two or three years.

Also missing from the unions’ argument is the plight of California, which may as well hold a giant Going-Out-of-Business sale. The entity formerly known as the Golden State is trying to close a projected deficit of $41 billion. The frantic scenes taking place in Sacramento ought to give New York lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates pause for reflection.

The problem in Albany is that unions and other interested parties are treating the budget crisis as just another drama. The extent of the unions’ creative thinking is reflected in their proposed solution: Rather than cut spending, the unions are demanding tax hikes on the rich, a group that includes families making $250,000 a year.

Once upon a time, back in the 1960s, the state relied on high taxation to pay for its ambitious programs and high payrolls. It led, some may recall, to a parade of moving vans heading west and south.

Governor Paterson doesn’t want a repeat of the 1970s, and neither should the unions. After all, both the state and city had to shed workers by the thousands a generation ago. The state may have to lay off workers again, but if Albany has any wisdom, perhaps it can keep the pain of unemployment to a minimum.

But disaster will surely follow if the unions get their way. It is a measure of their intellectual stagnation that in such an emergency as today’s, the best they can do is demand higher taxes on the rich and the not-so-rich. Rather than offer to partner with Governor Paterson, they have chosen to antagonize him.

In an interview over the weekend quoted in the Associated Press, Mr. Paterson said that the unions can “keep running their ads … and roll out as many blind people in wheelchairs as they like. I’m still going to reduce this deficit.”

Those are fighting words and precisely the words New Yorkers need to hear from their governor during this crisis.