Thursday, February 01, 2007

Spitzer's $120.6B budget sounds battle cry against special interests

Documents in hand, Gov. Eliot Spitzer prepares to speak to lawmakers yesterday in Albany about his $120.6 billion state budget proposal. The new governor’s budget includes a 6.3 percent increase in spending, major changes in education funding and targets tax “loopholes.” (Courtesy AP)

Times Herald-Record Brendan Scott

Let the budget games begin.......sometimes you ask for more...which allows everybody some "wiggle" room to negotiate........andy

Albany — It was budget as battle cry.
Flush with the power of electoral mandate, Gov. Eliot Spitzer yesterday rushed headlong into the unimaginable task of saving this state with a $120.6 billion budget designed to reorder state government.
No longer, the new governor said, would the state avoid tough battles with entrenched interests while property taxes soar, public schools fail and the state's health-care burden skyrockets.
It was a message Spitzer said he would take to the people himself if Albany didn't listen.
"This is not a debate that will be cloistered in the halls of this building," Spitzer told lawmakers. "This is a debate that I plan to bring to all New Yorkers. It's their future that's at stake."
The budget amounted to a dramatic redistribution of wealth, from Montauk to Niagara Falls. It was Spitzer's populist world view, explained in charts, graphs and PowerPoint slides.
Money would flow from rich to poor, from haves to have-nots. Big businesses would see tax "loopholes" closed. Health institutions and wealthy communities would see state aid slow to a crawl and, in some cases, stop.
Meanwhile, struggling school districts and hard-luck communities would experience a sudden shot of state cash.
But like everything with this prosecutor-turned-governor, that money would carry consequences.
If a struggling upstate city managed to balance its books, if a failing school district got more kids to graduate, they would be rewarded. If they didn't, the state would bring the hammer down.
In education, for instance, Spitzer was seeking the power to replace superintendents and school boards who repeatedly fail to improve student performance.
Spitzer also vowed to end the annual budget "dance" in Albany, with the governor holding out choice items in order to strengthen his negotiating position with the Legislature.
The budget would increase spending 6.3 percent over the current year.
"We're going to hold the line," Spitzer said. "This is what we believe we should do and they're going to have to persuade me that any additional penny merits the expense."
That kind of hard-line talk earned the former attorney general national fame as he took on Wall Street swindlers. But he's in a different arena now, one defined by rules of decorum and ruled by the big money spent in ornate halls.
Even yesterday, there were already signs that Albany had begun to push back against the Spitzer blitz.
The day brought an unflattering report that Spitzer, a Democrat, had vowed to "steamroll" the Assembly's Republican minority leader if he got in the way of his agenda.
And the legislative leaders who hold sway over any spending quickly poked holes in the governor's first budget.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said Spitzer's plan to increase the maximum number of charter schools from 100 to 250 would weaken public schools. He said the governor's proposed health-care cuts would restrict access to hospitals and nursing homes.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Brunswick, challenged Spitzer's proposal to close tax "loopholes," which he described as code for raising taxes on businesses. Bruno proposed deeper property tax cuts.
"People who draw lines in the sand don't get on-time budgets," Bruno said. "They don't get results."

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