Immediately after the World Trade Center’s destruction, New York governor George Pataki played Robin to Rudy Giuliani’s Batman as they rallied Gotham City. Pataki recently has emerged, however, as more a villain than a superhero’s sidekick. These days, Pataki resembles Colonel Kurtz, the role Marlon Brando immortalized in Apocalypse Now. Like Kurtz, Pataki is out of control. From far up a river, Pataki has joined his former enemies to combat the very principles he championed eight years ago. It’s past time for the president to terminate his command.
As the New York Post’s Frederick Dicker discovered, Pataki’s 2002-2003 executive budget predicts that “The state’s economic recovery will lag behind that of the rest of the country.” Since 9/11, that is no surprise. But Pataki overlooks this reality. Instead, he proposes to spend $88.6 billion next fiscal year — a record.
Such profligacy corresponds to a new Manhattan Institute report that documents Pataki’s 15-percent increase in inflation-adjusted state-level spending in his first seven years as governor. In contrast, Mario Cuomo, Pataki’s Democratic predecessor, raised expenditures 8 percent in his final eight years. Pataki has out-Cuomoed Cuomo.
Pataki’s latest spending spree includes a back-room bargain, rushed through the state legislature on January 16, for $3.5 billion in new health funding, largely to pad hospital laborers’ salaries. In exchange, Local 1199 — the liberal, 200,000-member hospital workers’ union — is expected to sit out Pataki’s reelection bid or even endorse him. This taxpayer-funded bribe to a powerful union assumes that Congress will authorize $1.8 billion in new Medicaid money to subsidize this sweetheart deal. Fat chance.
Pataki also plans to borrow $204 million to accelerate school-aid repayments to New York City. These funds appear reserved for public teachers’ wage increases. “It’s for the teachers,” one leading state legislator told the Post. “Let a police officer reach over to try and get the money — he’ll be stabbed in the hand.”
These pay hikes for instructors and hospital staffers will become permanent salary floors. Yet Pataki has funded them for just a few years. These “one-shots” are like 30-year mortgages financed with two-year-long cash flows. Future payments will require borrowed money and/or more taxes.
Pataki already has raised taxes. While he has cut the top-income-tax rate from 7.2 to 6.9 percent, his new budget allows New York City and other municipalities to impose a brand-new, 30 cent-per-month cell-phone tax. Pataki also plans to hike the state tobacco tax, already America’s steepest, from $1.11 to $1.50-per-pack, largely to pay off Local 1199. This boost follows a 2000 hike from 56 cents to $1.11 per-pack. That increase fueled a black market in cheaper cigarettes from low-tax states. Pataki funneled that revenue into Family Health Plus, a fresh entitlement that is basically diet Hillary Care.
While Republicans usually try to privatize state assets, Pataki instead borrowed $7.3 billion in 1997 to purchase the Long Island Lighting Company and give suburban voters cheap power. Nonetheless, today’s state-owned monopoly is a recipe for long-term high prices.
To lure environmentalists, Pataki has pushed General Electric to dredge the Hudson River for PCBs. These toxins, legally discharged between the 1940s and 1976, are entombed in the riverbed. Excavating them now could contaminate humans and wildlife.
Pataki is a quintessential RINO: Republican in Name Only. As such, President Bush should dispatch a modern-day Captain Willard, Martin Sheen’s character in Apocalypse Now, to sail up the Hudson and stop Pataki’s war on taxpayers. That emissary should tell Pataki that Bush will appoint him to a vacant ambassadorship in Brazil, Chile, Norway, or the Philippines if he agrees to leave quietly. State Department supervision should keep Pataki in check.
With Ambassador Pataki overseas, Rudy Giuliani easily would defeat current Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and likely cruise to victory next November 5. Under his leadership, Albany finally would rationalize its dismal finances and launch common-sense, free-market reforms like those that brought New York City roaring back from the abyss.
Barring that scenario, Pataki’s new, long march to the left may cost him the governorship anyway as betrayed Republicans avoid the polls and Democrats vote for a sincere liberal — either state comptroller Carl McCall or former HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo. Unless President Bush exports Pataki so Giuliani can secure the governor’s mansion, a Pataki, McCall, or Cuomo win will mean ever-growing government with ever-shrinking results. If George Pataki stays, New York’s prospects recall Colonel Kurtz’s closing words in Francis Ford Coppola’s film classic:
“The horror. The horror.”