Why Is Budget Reform So Hard? Ravitch: It’s Boring, For One

ravitch 505 Why Is Budget Reform So Hard? Ravitch: It’s Boring, For OneFor months now, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch has been shuttling around the state to business and labor leaders and elected officials in an effort to impress upon them the severity of the fiscal situation. Past borrowing and one-shot asset sales have pushed the state to the edge of a cliff, Ravitch likes to say, one the state is about to fall off.

So why is it so hard to get the public’s attention?

“I think the problem is, it’s a boring subject,” Ravitch said Friday morning at a New York Building Congress breakfast, earning some chuckles from the crowd.

He recalled his time as Citizens Budget Commission chairman.

“When I got to talking about what I was doing at dinner parties,” he said of conversations with friends, “they were so bored, they didn’t invite me again.”

The breakfast speech was part of his effort to round up support for his five-year budgetary reform plan (the Building Congress endorsed it), which allows some borrowing in exchange for new limits on spending and installs a longer-term view in the budget process.

The Assembly incorporated many of his ideas in its budget resolution this week—Ravitch said he was “very pleased” that the chamber supported the reforms—while the Senate rejected them.

Ravitch responded to the criticisms that his plan relies on borrowing, saying that borrowing is always in the budget in one form or another—a key problem that led to the current situation—be it bonding out revenues from tobacco settlements or through other mechanisms. His plan, he argued, would allow a limited amount of borrowing while adding new discipline. 

He also predicted a budget might force itself no later than the start of June, given dwindling cash reserves.

“The state runs out of cash finally and unalterably on June 1,” he said. “So I can say with some confidence that there will be a budget by then.”

ebrown@observer.com