Three thousand people came out to hear Governor David Paterson’s message to the community on Tuesday at Brooklyn’s First AME Zion Church, pastored by Rev. Darren H. Mitchell. The governor was warmly greeted by the standing room only crowd in the first of a series of conversations he is holding across the state.
Governor Paterson spoke of NYS’s budget woes, and put them in a national context. “The amount of deficits states have run are twice the stimulus dollars,” said Paterson. “Without it, things could be worse.” Paterson credited President Obama’s stimulus as mitigating the problem.
The Governor gave an overview of the problem. NYS receives 20% of our tax proceeds from Wall Street. Our tax receipts are down – twice the national average. Governor Paterson identified the national crisis first in July 2008. In August 2008, NYS balanced its budget and was able to create a ½ billion dollar emergency fund that has enabled New York to do far better than other states.
Paterson said 34 states have had to take actions that NYS has not: 26 states shut down all Pre-K and kindergarten programs; 21 states have furloughed workers; 9 states have let prisoners out. Hawaii shortened its school week from 6 days to 4. In addition Hawaii, and Michigan (which has a 16% unemployment rate) have no more after-school programs. Arizona sold its assets, including the state capitol, which is leased back to itself. California’s credit rating is triple B – one step above junk bond status. As a result, California has a $1 billion interest on their debt.
In comparison to many other states, Governor Paterson said NYS policy is “shared sacrifice.” He acknowledged NYS has the 2nd highest tax rate in the country. The state’s rebate on property tax relief has been abolished.
The Governor said 55% of NYS’s budget goes to health care and education. In response to what Paterson describes as “misleading” commercials, 71% of all education costs go to administration; 29% is for children. Paterson said 95% of school districts we cut have reserve funds, therefore he recommended “wealth-based” tax cuts. The state didn’t cut poorer school districts.
Regarding the impact of health care cuts, Paterson said “No Medicaid patients will be denied services due to cuts.”
The Governor gave an example of how painful it has been for him to make cuts to services. In 2004, when he was a State Senator, Paterson co-sponsored a $50 million bill for lead paint. In 2008, that legislation passed. Paterson said, as governor, he had to veto it. The Governor described how he had to face the music from his then-Assembly member co-sponsor, David Gantt who all but “cussed” him out. Paterson said since then, he found $25 million to help victims of lead poisoning.
Paterson said he is cutting now to avoid closings later. “California is closing hospitals. Arizona is closing schools. New York will be recovering in the new economy.”
In contrast to 34 states that are behind on payments, Governor Paterson said, “I’ve balanced 2 budgets in the middle of a recession. We have not missed a payment [obligation]. NY has maintained its credit rating.”
After his opening remarks, Governor Paterson took questions from the audience.
Regarding a question about John White, the husband and father who was convicted for protecting his family and home from a drunken mob, the governor said he “has met with John White,” and explained he “cannot intervene in ongoing court proceedings,” (the case in on appeal) and cannot comment further.
On the ever-controversial Atlantic Yards project, Paterson said he met with representatives of the opponents to Atlantic Yards just prior to his conversation with the audience. The Governor promised “an objective and fair hearing” on the issue. “The state has an interest in Atlantic Yards,” the Governor said. “Upon advisement of [Council woman] Tish James, I will review.”
On the topic of employment, Governor Paterson said NYS’s official unemployment rate is 8.9%, “but I believe 15-18% of able-bodied adults don’t have jobs.” Paterson said he has expanded the W/MBE system. “NYS was 45th out of 50 states” in awarding contracts to W/MBE’s. He explained while “8% of W/MBE’s qualified, only 2/3 of 1% (.66%) were getting business.” Paterson said NYS had one of the worst records in the country, “Mississippi was better.” Under his leadership, Governor Paterson said the rate of M/WBE’s that do business with the state increased from .66% to 11.1%. Paterson views W/MBE’s as a way to “create jobs in the community.”
Governor Paterson was asked about Alton Maddox’s law license and records surrounding the Tawana Brawley incident. Paterson said Maddox’s law license has been suspended for 20 years, amounting to “4 times the maximum suspension” under NYS law. Paterson felt it would be “equitable to give Maddox’s license back.” Regarding the records on Tawana Brawley, Paterson said he doesn’t have those files. Paterson recommended taking up the issue with the independently-elected District Attorney or the state’s Attorney General, Mario Cuomo. There were many more questions than time, and the Governor said he would return to continue the conversation. Oh, and yes the governor is running in 2010.