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Facing New York’s “Great Depression” Level Crisis

August 4, 2008

Albany, NY - Governor David Paterson faces his biggest test yet, one he has likened to the Great Depression — dealing with a projected $6.4 billion budget deficit. Things are so tough, warns Paterson, that even healthcare and education could be on the chopping block when a special legislative session convenes later this month.

Gwen O'Shea, with the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, says some trimming makes sense in hard times, but other types of cuts are counterproductive.

"The governor needs to be proactive, because the future is not bright right now; but we just want to make sure he understands that, during an economic downturn, the way to save money is not to cut programs that are the 'safety net' for folks who are already vulnerable."

As an example, O'Shea estimates it will cost three to four times more to treat problems in the future if the state cuts matching funds that keep New Yorkers healthy. A group of unions, health organizations and environmental advocates called the "Better Budget Choices Campaign" says Paterson should even consider a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, if that could prevent cuts to critical services.

And Laura Haight, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, says there are other strategies that could help.

"One example is to update New York’s Bottle Bill; currently the beverage companies keep all the unclaimed deposits. By transferring that money to the state, we could generate over 100 million dollars in new revenue — at no cost."

Haight also suggests the state could also follow Utah's example, adopting a four-day, ten-hour workweek for some state employees, which would lower energy costs while limiting cuts to workers' hours.

Michael Clifford/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY