ASTORINO: New York’s fiscal mess has been a long time coming


As New York continues to move to reopen our economy and society, the governor and state legislature must also move to rebuild our state.

While it’s true that no state suffered more from the coronavirus, it’s also true that New York is among the most vulnerable and least able to recover from a prolonged shutdown.

Before most of us ever heard of COVID-19, New York was facing a $6.1 billion budget deficit, despite a strong national economy.

Before this crisis, New York was already the highest taxed state in the nation, with the most debt and the worst business climate.

Before the shutdown, New York’s out-of-control budget was double that of Florida, despite having two million fewer people.

And before the governor arrogantly told 1.8 million people who were desperate to return to work to “get a job as an essential worker,” New York was already leading the nation in losing its residents to other states – more than one million New Yorkers fled the state in the past 10 years. How many of the pandemic unemployed will look to leave now?

New York is at a critical crossroads. The easy path is to blame the state’s financial mess all on the virus and pray for a federal bailout. Another easy out is to borrow and spend more money, raise taxes even higher and call for more and more government programs and control. In other words, do what precisely got us into trouble pre-coronavirus.

What we need is an honest restructuring of our state – based on a bipartisan reexamination of how we budget, tax, spend and borrow and how we treat businesses, big and small, local municipalities and taxpayers. It’s time for legislators to adopt a new mindset.

After decades of irresponsibility, kicking the can down the road will only deepen the state’s woes. The Empire Policy Center calls our economic situation a “catastrophe.” The governor’s answer is to beg for a $65 billion bailout from Washington. The worst thing that could happen is that New York gets the money – without having to fix our faults.

Making the same mistake over and over again and hoping for a different result is the definition of insanity. But there are sane and smart steps that can be taken toward prosperity.

When I was elected Westchester County Executive, I faced a massive budget deficit, a stagnant economy and beleaguered taxpayers living in the highest taxed county in the nation. Over the next eight years, I built a bipartisan coalition of Democrat and Republican legislators and we got to work, adopting a set of principles we labeled “The 3 P’s” – Protecting Taxpayers, Preserving Essential Services and Promoting Economic Development. We cut property taxes our first year and held them flat for the next seven. We cut waste and held spending in check for eight years; in fact, the $1.8 billion budget we left the county with was the same amount I inherited. We invested in our burgeoning biotech sector and built public-private partnerships to leverage county assets, all helping to create over 44,000 private sector jobs.

Obviously, the state is a much larger entity and facing a much more serious situation, but the same principles apply.

Gov. Cuomo hired high-powered business consultants McKinsey & Co. to work on the reopening of our state. Why not hire them or other outside groups to be the nucleus of a team with broad-based civic, community, educational, environmental, financial and real estate expertise to advise on a restructuring plan for our state?

New York is going to be a vastly different place when the pandemic ends. Working from home will be more common. With it come enormous consequences for how we do our jobs, shop, commute, educate our kids and perform endless other daily activities. Within these changes lie great opportunities. We can seize them, or we can cling to a cancerous status quo and get crushed.

Tough choices lie ahead. We must engage in truthful and respectful dialogue, which means not cancelling messages and messengers as soon as things get uncomfortable.

But tough choices, the ones resisted by entrenched special interests, usually produce the right answers. The call here is for the governor and legislative leaders to commit to making the difficult choices needed to restructure New York for a sustainable future. And for the rest of us to support them when they show leadership over partisanship.

Do we really have any other option?

Rob Astorino served as Westchester County Executive from 2010 through 2017 and is the Republican nominee in the 40th Senate District race this year.

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