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A wish granted

For years, New York’s governor annually met in private with the leaders of the Assembly and Senate to hammer out a state budget agreement.
The process, known as “three men in a room,” is one George Pataki throughout his career in state politics has tried to end.
He got his wish this year–and now finds the consequences staring him in the face.
For the past month the governor has watched from the sidelines as the Assembly and Senate passed their versions of the fiscal 1999 budget, then worked out the differences in open sessions.
The result: a $71.5 billion plan that falls slightly under Mr. Pataki’s overall target but outspends the governor’s proposal in areas such as education, child care and the environment. What’s more, its tax cuts go well beyond what he had in mind.
Mr. Pataki told lawmakers more than once he would veto parts of the budget–or even the entire plan–if his spending goals were exceeded.
Now, as he gets ready for a re-election run in November, he must decide whether to carry through on that promise and ax a number of politically popular items from the Legislature’s budget.
More than a little miscellaneous trimming is required. Spending on schools, for example, was increased by $960 million–blowing past Mr. Pataki’s target by roughly $400 million.
The amount earmarked for school construction and repair projects tops the Pataki plan by 55 percent. And the governor’s child-care allocation was tripled.
On the tax side, the lawmakers’ plan contains a reduction in the corporate tax from 9 percent to 7.5 percent in 2001–which would put New York’s rate in the middle among the 50 states, compared with eighth-highest now–along with numerous additional business-tax cuts. However, the plan also calls for a range of reductions in levies on individuals that brings the total to $743 million when fully in effect four years from now.
More than the governor’s promise is at stake. Even liberal research groups think lawmakers’ rosy economic assumptions set the stage for hefty future deficits.
Four years ago, Mr. Pataki vowed to restore fiscal responsibility to state government. He has another opportunity to show New Yorkers what that means.
–Rochester Business Journal

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