This column is designed to drive the final railroad spike into the coffin of George Elmer Pataki’s presidential ambitions.
The Empire State’s drowsy Republican governor drifts off January 1 after 12 years in office. He departs about 11 years too late. Pataki is less than just a politician of breathtaking mediocrity; his lack of competence, charisma, and character composes a sickening trifecta that actually has led some local Republicans to look with hope at Governor-elect Elliot Spitzer, a busybody liberal Democrat.
As the curtain creaks down on Pataki’s seemingly endless Broadway run, it is vital to this Republic’s health that his threatened national roadshow go nowhere.
Five years after 9/11, the former World Trade Center remains an excruciating chasm. “Al-Canyon” is a dual testament to al Qaeda’s urban-redesign skills and Pataki’s lack thereof. As the man responsible for transforming Ground Zero from a five-story-deep national tear duct into a symbol of American renaissance, this site only now is emerging from the post-September-11 dark ages. Pataki’s indecision and dithering delayed concrete from being poured for the Freedom Tower’s foundation until November 18 — five years and nine weeks after Islamo-fascists demolished the Twin Towers.
Pataki’s Pit perfectly symbolizes a governorship darkened by profligacy, debt, patronage, and influence peddling. This black hole must not be allowed to swallow Iowa, New Hampshire, or any other primary state.
Pataki, nevertheless, was in the Granite State recently when he told Fox News’ Carl Cameron:
Republicans don’t get elected by going on spending binges that result in a growth of government spending that is not sustainable and more than the people want. I think we did get away in Washington from those principles that Republicans believe in — limited government, controlling spending, cutting taxes.
How rich. If only Pataki had heeded himself.
To his credit, Pataki initially cut taxes.
“Among his leading first-term accomplishments were his $3 billion, 25 percent income-tax cut and a substantial cut in the capital gains tax and inheritance tax,” states the Cato Institute’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2006.” However, in his second term, Pataki “raised the cigarette tax to $1.50 per pack. He raised taxes on net, by more than $3 billion his final term in office.”
As Pataki’s reign of error ends, New York is No. 50 in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. It also has America’s 50th best individual state-tax burden, and is the 47th-best place to pay unemployment insurance.
Under Pataki, the state budget has soared 79.5 percent — from $63.3 billion in 1994 to $113.6 billion in 2006. Pataki’s 12-year-average annual spending rate is 4.9 percent.
“Pataki’s budgets grew by almost twice as much as inflation,” says Cato Institute fiscal analyst Stephen Slivinski. In Pataki’s third term, this spending pace zoomed to 8.3 percent. In Cato’s latest gubernatorial report card, Pataki’s financial mismanagement earned him a D.
Pataki has borrowed like a pawnshop patron. He has deepened state-funded debt by 61.3 percent — from $31 billion in 1994 to $50 billion today.
Public-health costs are yet another fiasco. Pataki currently stars in local TV commercials in which he encourages people to apply for Child Health Plus (CHP), a state Medicaid program. Such ads, in which Pataki has appeared since 2002, have worked. Even as the latest Census estimates show New York’s population grew just 0.72 percent between July 1, 2002 and July 1, 2006 (from 19,167,600 to 19,306,183), state Medicaid enrollees accelerated 18.3 percent (from 3,568,627 in June 2002 to 4,222,748 in June 2006). Participants in Family Health Plus, another Medicaid subsidy, rocketed from 2,864 in January 2002 to 563,100 last January — a 19,561 percent ascent. Medicaid is swallowing the state budget like a killer whale devouring a walrus. And yet Pataki’s ads stimulate that whale’s appetite.
Pataki has transformed Medicaid from low-income health care into a recipe for middle-class welfare dependency. Former Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo inaugurated CHP in 1992. A family of four in 1998 could make no more than $35,631 for its kids to qualify. Under Pataki, that ceiling has risen 40.3 percent since then, to $50,000 today.
Even worse, recent estimates show that perhaps 40 percent of New York’s $46.6 billion Medicaid budget (up 93.4 percent from $24.1 billion in 1994) funds questionable and fraudulent claims. This $18.6 billion deadweight loss previously has subsidized such worthies as a Brooklyn dentist who, on one day in 2003, charged Medicaid for 991 procedures. Such news makes Pataki yawn.
Greater insistence on Medicaid’s integrity might have made Pataki collide into his pal, Dennis Rivera, a board member of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and president of United Healthcare Workers East, Local 1199. This 285,000-member union backed Pataki in 2002. In exchange, Pataki gave Rivera’s then-200,000 New York-State-based members a three-year, $1.8 billion taxpayer-funded pay hike. (Local 1199 has 250,000 NYS-based members today, in addition to workers it represents in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.)
Pataki’s pay-to-play apparatus is like an old Automat restaurant: cash in, goodies out. In one egregious example, attorney general Spitzer found that, in 2001, the New York State Canal Corporation gave Richard A. Hutchens information that helped him score a non-competitive bid to construct $21.7 million in housing along the Erie Canal. These rights cost him just $30,000 — a potential 72,233 percent return on investment. As it happens, Hutchens gave Pataki’s campaign $8,000. “Everybody makes a political contribution for a purpose,” Hutchens told investigators.
“George Pataki turned the New York GOP into a machine devoted exclusively to the empowerment and enrichment of his coterie,” the New York Post’s Eric Fettman observed. “There’s nothing left that even resembles a genuine infrastructure capable of recruiting candidates with strong statewide appeal.” As Fettman predicted last February 21, this “leaves the party facing likely statewide disaster.”
November 7 indeed was a disaster for the Empire State GOP. This, however, was no surprise. Terrified of being upstaged by potential candidates with actual talent, Pataki instead has boosted hacks, losers, and also-rans.
In 2004, Pataki’s pick — invisible state assemblyman Howard Mills — vanished anew after winning a state-record-low 24 percent against Democratic senator Charles Schumer. This year, Pataki short-circuited a promising U.S. Senate challenge by conservative Manhattan attorney Ed Cox in favor of Westchester prosecutor Jeanine Pirro. She stumbled, switched races, and then garnered just 40 percent against attorney-general-elect Andrew Cuomo. With Cox on blocks, former Yonkers mayor John Spencer captured 31 percent against Democratic senator Hillary Clinton. Such horribly squandered opportunities have denuded Albany of statewide GOP officials. Beyond Michael Bloomberg, the Big Apple’s nominally Republican mayor, elephants approach extinction here, thanks to Pataki’s pachydermocidal “party-building.”
As former Republican National Committeewoman Georgette Mosbacher told the Post’s Fred Dicker: “Our New York party leaders have tried to be everything to everybody, and what’s now happened to us is that we’ve become nothing to everyone.”
Despite all this, Republicans across America have told me, “Rudy Giuliani’s a big liberal, but at least Pataki’s a conservative.” After dropping my drink, I patiently explain that this inverts reality. While Pataki built government like a carpenter on steroids, Giuliani curbed Gotham’s tax burden by $8 billion or 19 percent; cut real, year-on-year outlays in two of his eight budgets; and, by Cato’s calculations, kept annual average spending at 2.9 percent vs. Pataki’s 5.9 percent his last eight years. (Giuliani maintained outlays below his tenure’s 3.6 percent inflation rate.) Giuliani’s production, not Pataki’s, deserves a coast-to-coast tour.
So far, Pataki cannot impress even his neighbors. According to an October 1 Strategic Vision poll, 50 percent of New Jersey Republicans favor Giuliani for president while only 1 percent want Pataki in the White House. What a humiliating performance for the governor of a contiguous state whose citizens have been bathed for 12 years in commercials and news stories on Pataki, courtesy of New York’s media.
“Pataki is prepared to give the nation what he gave New York: out-of-control spending, corruption, political favoritism, and neglect,” warns Hudson Institute president Herbert London, a veteran Gotham conservative activist. “To suggest that the last 12 years of his leadership were a failure would be a grotesque understatement. Pataki is an anchor around the ship of state, drowning residents in debt and special favors.”
Drowning, indeed. George Elmer Pataki’s presidential dreams merit a pair of cement shoes and a non-stop trip to the bed of the Hudson River.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.