Governor David A. Paterson must certainly understand his amiable personality has failed to convince the state legislature that New York faces its worst financial meltdown since the 1970's. Nearly all our 212 legislators suffer from indifference. Crisis? What crisis?
State legislators don't care about the reality of what we're up against, are too petrified of their union bosses, or both. Now that their leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, have arrogantly refused to provide Governor Paterson with one single idea for spending reductions to close next year's $12.5 billion deficit, they have forced him to the brink of dire decision-making.
Skelos, deservedly, will soon inherent the mantle of irrelevance now that his Senate Republicans lost their majority. But the problem is his successor, Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith, is not an improvement. In fact, Smith will lead a 32-member Democratic majority in opposition to spending controls with a greater ferocity than Albany's feckless Republicans.
Silver is even more of a challenge for Governor Paterson than Smith. He will go down in history as one of the most cunning and calculating legislative leaders Albany has ever witnessed. Entering his 15th year as Speaker, this man always seems to get what he wants.
There is only one way for Governor Paterson to handle the legislature for at least the next two months: Unilaterally. New York's constitution provides the governor with a series of executive powers state legislators have no authority whatsoever to stop.
State legislators have pet bills that barely receive media attention. Many are yawn-inducing. But not to them. They revel in promoting these little bills in their newsletters, public appearances, weekly newspapers, websites and elsewhere.
Governor Paterson should inform Speaker Silver and incoming Majority Leader Smith he's not signing one bill that does not directly address our state fiscal emergency. Every single one will be vetoed if it's sent.
State legislators relish access, and no where is it more evident in their pursuit of patronage. They love securing posts in the executive branch for supporters, campaign donors, friends and family members. It makes them look good at home.
Governor Paterson's Appointments Secretary, the patronage chief, knows all the precise details of the jobs state legislators covet for their benefactors. He should impose a moratorium on every one.
If halting patronage and bill signings is not enough to break chronic legislative inattention, there is always their precious pork-barrel projects to target. Governor Paterson can order top advisers to delay checks for the tens of millions that comprise this vote-buying slush fund. Assert no group gets one penny until the governor is satisfied he's receiving real cooperation from the legislature.
There is also The Nuclear Option. Governor Paterson can begin laying off state employees.
If he moves forward with layoffs the Public Employees Federation, Civil Service Employees Association and 1199, the bloated New York City hospital union, will be forced to negotiate in good faith. And it may finally make them consider reform to their Cadillac-style pension and health care costs that are bankrupting the state.
Such a hardball tactic should convince the union leadership to avoid launching their predictable radio and television commercials calling for tax hikes and other policies that have helped land our Empire State in this abyss. Once their members are looking for new employment, they'll consider playing nice with a man who leads 19 million people.
The governor himself also needs self-inspection. While his language is bold in warning New Yorkers we are living in a budgetary nightmare, Governor Paterson's behavior can be curious. He's jetted off to California and overseas recently for conferences that have nothing to do with the business of Albany. This is needless out-of-state socializing, and must stop.
In addition, Governor Paterson hesitates to use the bully pulpit. He has shown flashes of understanding how this immense communication tool succeeds. If he uses it correctly, it will work.
For example, when the unions inevitably object to reductions in health care spending Governor Paterson has the hard facts on his side. In 2005, a New York Times investigation found that as much as 40 percent of our $45 billion annual Medicaid budget encompasses fraud, mismanagement, abuse, as well as the incompetent interference of state legislators.
It's merely one fact, in an arsenal of facts, which have driven jobs and people out of New York. Especially upstate. Governor Paterson can relentlessly cite each one as he continues to confront the legislature.
The truth is the budget has to be cut. Massively. That simple. Yet we have 212 dithering state legislators who have conclusively demonstrated their only solution is to run away from reality.
Governor Paterson must wield the power he has at his disposal. It's time.