A newly elected governor just persuaded his dysfunctional state legislature to close a multibillion-dollar deficit, keep taxes in check and limit annual Medicaid spending. Unfortunately for Californians, it wasn’t Jerry Brown.
It was Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor. His performance thus far has advanced the cause of limited government on the Hudson far more than did his past three predecessors — the hapless David Paterson, the shirtless Eliot Spitzer and the clueless Republican George Pataki.
Cuomo ignored the bellyaching of left-wing class warriors and demanded the expiration of a so-called “millionaire’s tax” that boosted the 6.85 percent income-tax rate to 7.85 percent for singles earning as little as $200,000 and 8.97 percent for those making at least $500,000.
“The old way of solving the problem was continuing to raise taxes on people, and we just can’t do that anymore,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to have to reduce government spending.”
And reduce spending Cuomo did. His $132.5 billion budget is $3.4 billion lower than last year’s, an honest 2.5 percent cut.
Cuomo killed the spending formulae that were “marbleized throughout New York State laws,” as he put it. These would have automatically boosted annual Medicaid and education expenditures, demanding 13 percent hikes in those programs this year. Instead, Cuomo got Democrats and even the hospital-workers union to accept a 4 percent yearly spending cap on Medicaid and education.
Scrapping these formulae cut this year’s deficit by $10 billion, next year’s by $13 billion, and set spending growth on a flatter trajectory.
Cuomo secured permission to cut state agencies by 20 percent, close up to six prisons, and merge the state Banking and Finance departments, among other agencies.
The budget lets Cuomo squeeze $450 million in concessions from unions. If they balk, he may sack 10,000 government workers.
Cuomo’s proposed ceiling on medical malpractice awards perished in negotiations, as did his wish for a 2 percent cap on property tax hikes. Still, he accomplished all of this without increasing state borrowing.
The New York Post reacted with a two-word headline: “PIGS FLY.”
Cuomo’s seriousness jarringly contrasts with Washington, D.C., where unseriousness is a governing philosophy. Last year’s Democratic Congress never passed a budget, amplifying this year’s headaches.
Congressional Republican leaders have attacked the federal budget with a butter knife, rather than a meat cleaver. They have offered a mere $61 billion budget reduction, not the $100 billion they promised to slice from this year’s budget. They largely have ignored Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who discovered $82.4 billion in abandoned accounts that have grown moldy in federal coffers since at least 2005. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., has proposed the Forgotten Funds Act, which would channel these dormant dollars into deficit reduction.
Also, the Government Accountability Office recently concluded that Washington really is a giant Department of Redundancy Department. It identified perhaps $100 billion in overlapping projects, such as 47 job-training programs, 82 teacher-quality initiatives, and 2,100 federal data centers. Regardless, Republicans have failed to squeeze at least another $39 billion from this Mount Whitney of waste to keep a key promise that helped them secure the House of Representatives last November.
Even less inspiring, Democrats are trimming the budget with an emery board. The $6 billion they agreed to cut in March shrank 100 percent of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget way, way down to 99.84 percent. Cuomo’s $10 billion state-budget cut is 1½ times what Washington Democrats would remove from the entire federal budget.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada moaned that “mean-spirited” Republicans would end federal subsidies for Elko, Nevada’s Cowboy Poetry Festival. This is frightfully close to Nero fiddling in the flames.
President Obama, Reid, and Gov. Brown should ride Amtrak to Albany and let an adult named Andrew Cuomo show them how it’s done.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.