The Wednesday after the first Monday of the new year – only NYS could word something in this manner. That is the date on which the governor is required to give his State of the State address to a joint session of the NYS legislature. So, yesterday, shortly after a new majority leader for the NYS Senate was announced, Governor David A Patterson took the podium for an historic address.
Why historic? First off, Patterson was not elected governor. He inherited the office, along with the mess that has come with it, from Eliot Spitzer who resigned in the middle of a prostitute incident(s) last March. Second, Patterson is legally blind so would not be using teleprompters for his almost hour long speech. An article in today’s newspaper says that Patterson spent approximately 60 hours memorizing the speech. Third, and in my analysis the most important historical point, the speech would be given three weeks after the governor presented his 2009-2010 budget. Normally, the governor gives his State of the State address and then presents his budget a few weeks later.
Why did I think this third point was more important than the others? With his budget already out in the public domain, Patterson could make a speech filled with details. He could explain why he chose the new taxes he did and why he cut expenditures where he did in his budget. He could also explain why he increased expenditures where he did in his budget. This was not only Patterson’s chance to show NYS voters that he was up for the job – an election stop of sorts since he has indicated he will run for governor himself in 2010, it was Patterson’s chance to sell his budget, his vision of where NYS should be headed to the people of NYS and to the legislators who will put together their own budget shortly. Patterson, in my opinion, did neither of those items.
Patterson started off his speech by recited a poem of less than 20 lines – “Opportunity” by Edward Roland Sill. This was after Patterson re-introduced many dignitaries that were in the audience. At the end of the poem, Sill talks about a great cause. Patterson segwayed into the “meat” of his speech by saying the great cause is the culture and spirit of NYS. He did no harm in paraphrasing former Governor Mario Cuomo as he discussed whether we would make promises we can’t keep or we would be honest about the crisis we are in.
To be honest, the poem and paraphrasing of the former governor laid a path straight to the bad news that Patterson was about to detail. It is not that New Yorkers do not know that the state is in bad shape. I am pretty sure 90% of us do. It is that many do not realize how bad that shape is. NY has an escalating budget deficit. It increased $60 million a day between mid-August and the end of the last year. The state is truly in “perilous” condition as Patterson noted. There is a stark economic challenge facing state government.
Most in NY realize that unemployment is a huge issue. Just in the Binghamton area, there are friends of mine who have been looking for jobs since June or July and still haven’t found one. There are some jobs to be found but not general employment. The state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, estimates that 225,000 New Yorkers will be laid off, or in some way lose their jobs, this year.
The escalating deficit is due in part to matters beyond the state’s control. Wall Street contributes 20% of NY’s tax collections. With the decline in the financial sector and the loss of major players in this area, these collections are down tremendously. While the decline in these collections is beyond the state’s control, the spending and dependence on these tax collections that have taken place historically are not.
After painting a dire picture of NYS, Governor Patterson said this is a “time for courage and hope,” a “time for action.” Unfortunately, the governor’s call to action was not specific enough for my taste. Patterson, at least twice that I heard and possibly more than twice, indicated that “if we cannot spend more, we can spend more effectively.” The problem here is that he would spend more if given the opportunity. This is not learning a lesson from the situation we are in. And, are we not doomed to repeat history if we do not learn from it? That would definitely be the case as, at the end of the speech, Patterson introduced a family of five from Cicero, New York. He outlined how previous members of this family had lived through financial crises in the 1920′s and 30′s and in the 1970′s. We are still not learning from what has happened so will be doomed, at least in NYS and possibly the country, to repeat this type of catastrophe again.
Patterson did draw some logical conclusions during his speech. The anticipated, and already happened, job loss would mean health care coverage loss. This is not always something that is brought up. The governor wants to add 226,000 New Yorkers to Family Health Plus. This is admirable as these unemployed and laid off workers will need health care. Unfortunately, I am not sure this is fiscally responsible for the state.
Another health care item the governor wants to begin is requiring that insurance companies allow families to insure their “children” between the ages of 19 and 29 on their family plan at their own expense. While I understand the need for this, I have to say it scares me. I currently have three children in college. Because they are full-time students, they are still covered under their father’s insurance until the age of 25. My gut instinct tells me that if legislation passes, as the governor would like, insurance companies that currently offer this option for full-time students will stop. My full-time students do not cost me extra. They are part of the family plan. I cannot see an insurance company out there turning down the chance to make money off this group as they tend to be one of the healthiest demographics. This would be a huge burden on the middle class if suddenly all college aged family members would need to paid for as opposed to being part of the family policy.
The portion of the governor’s speech that dealt with childhood obesity annoyed me. It did not annoy me because I am denying that childhood obesity is an issue. It is. It annoyed me because I do not believe that the governor understands the problem. He continually said “parents don’t know.” I do not believe that is the case in the majority of households. I believe that the economic reality of life make it so parents make choices that may not be in the best interest of their families. I believe that it is the economic reality of life that make parents ignore the medical realities that childhood obesity leads to so many other issues. Yes, I believe this needs to change. I do not believe this is a change that can come from the top down. This is not something that is legislatable – I make up words when I need them. I am not sure that the five point plan the governor outlined is going to help eleviate childhood obesity.
There is so much more that was said in this speech but reality is calling and I need to end. I will pick up with education and volunteerism and energy later.