‘A Spending Binge Enabler’ Is How Pataki Aide Describes Alan Hevesi

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The New York Sun

The state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, is sharply criticizing Governor Pataki and state lawmakers for going on a spending spree. But Mr. Pataki’s advisers want to know why Mr. Hevesi didn’t try to stop the spending while budget negotiations were taking place.

While both the city and the state face long-term budget problems, the city’s budget seems to be in better short-term shape. The city’s fiscal watchdog, the Independent Budget Office, yesterday estimated the city will have a $3.5 billion budget surplus this year, in part because of $100 million more in revenue this year than Mayor Bloomberg is projecting.

The state is also awash in cash for now. But Mr. Hevesi said the new budget fails to plan for the future, and that Albany “has moved from dysfunctional to chaotic.”

“A budget must not only be on-time, it must also be prudent,” Mr. Hevesi said in a statement. “Instead, the Governor and Legislature in separate actions have produced a budget with spending growing much faster than revenues, increasing rather than limiting the use of debt, and greater use of one-shots that plug today’s budget holes while increasing future gaps.”

A spokesman for the governor’s budget division, Scott Reif, called Mr. Hevesi “nothing more than a spending binge enabler who stayed on the sidelines while the Legislature added billions of dollars in spending and debt to the governor’s budget.”

“Only today, nearly two months later, the Comptroller has come out with an irrelevant report that sheds no meaningful light on anything,” Mr. Reif said via email. The comptroller’s office dismissed that, saying Mr. Hevesi is an objective watchdog who provides analysis and does not get involved in the budget fight.

In his 241-page report, Mr. Hevesi, a Democrat who is running for a second term, paints Albany leaders as reckless for passing a budget that jacks up spending at a rate that far outpaces the state’s expected revenue. It said that spending would increase by 30% over the next three years, while tax revenue would go up only by 14%.

He also said the governor “destroys any appropriate balance in the budget process” because he blocked legislative proposals as unconstitutional without letting a court decide.

Mr. Hevesi pointed to what he said were several flaws with the state budget. One is that the governor’s proposed $110.6 billion executive budget increased spending twice as fast as revenue is expected over the next three years and created a two-year budget gap of $7.8 billion.

Mr. Hevesi said the spending overdrive was exacerbated by proposals from the Legislature, which if adopted would have created a $13.2 billion hole in the budget over two years.

Aides to the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, blamed the governor, a Republican who is trying to position himself for a presidential run as a fiscal conservative; the majority leader of the state Senate, Joseph Bruno, criticized Mr. Hevesi and noted that he certified the budget.

A spokesman for Mr. Silver, Charles Carrier, said the budget ended the sales tax on clothing, eased the burden on property-tax payers, and improved education and health care. Mr. Bruno defended the budget as “fiscally responsible.”

“Rather than issuing a report attacking the budget … the comptroller should make constructive recommendations on what taxes he would increase and what programs he would cut to address his concerns,” Mr. Bruno said in a statement.

New York City’s budget situation seems to be in stronger condition, but projecting the city’s revenue has become something like the board game Clue: a mystery.

The Bloomberg administration has repeatedly said there are looming budget shortfalls and that the city cannot cut taxes or increase spending. But the city has increased its revenue forecasts since last November, in part because of higher-than-expected revenues from taxes on real-estate transactions.

Yesterday, the IBO said in addition to higher-than-expected revenue, budget shortfalls for the next few years would be smaller than the mayor’s predicting. While the city believes there will be a balanced budget next year, IBO says there will be a $400 million surplus. IBO also calculates deficits between 2008 and 2010 at about $1 billion lower a year than city predictions. The city’s overall budget is in the $50 billion to $60 billion range.

The chief of staff at IBO, Doug Turetsky, said estimating future revenues has become more difficult. The agency’s own estimates have increased from just two months ago by more than $900 million dollars.

“Over the past year or so we’ve been playing leapfrog with the mayor’s budget office,” Mr. Turetsky said. “They put their numbers out, then we put our numbers out. We keep getting ahead of each other and that’s part of the pattern too.”

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Jordan Barowitz said differing revenue predictions trace to different predictions about future real estate transactions.

“We don’t believe that real estate transactions are going to be as high as they do,” Mr. Barowitz said. “Our revenue estimates are neither conservative nor optimistic, they are our attempt to predict how much money will be coming into the city.”

The New York Sun

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