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The Paterson plan

Gov. David Paterson’s poll numbers look really bad—until you compare them to the job-performance rating voters give the state Legislature. In both a new Siena Research Institute poll and this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll, lawmakers fare considerably worse than the governor.

One key reason: While many members of the Legislature seem to be in denial about the severity of New York’s fiscal crisis, Mr. Paterson has demonstrated that he gets it. You need not agree with all or any of his proposed two-year, $5 billion deficit-reduction plan in order to acknowledge that it represents an honest bid to confront the crisis.

Any attempt to remedy what ails the state—runaway spending—is sure to rile many New Yorkers. That’s because most residents benefit from this profligacy in some way, just as they help carry the tax burden that supports it.

Stated simply, many taxpayers want cuts in spending to other New Yorkers’ favorite programs and services.

Mr. Paterson’s proposal has angered so many people chiefly because it spreads the pain widely. To achieve $3 billion in current-year savings, the governor is calling for $1.8 billion in across-the-board spending reductions. The largest chunk would be $1.3 billion in reductions to local assistance spending such as aid to school districts ($480 million), Medicaid ($287 million), aid to municipalities ($67 million) and higher education programs ($62 million).

His proposal also includes $500 million in administrative agency spending reductions that Mr. Paterson announced earlier this month. Unlike other cuts, these would not require legislative approval.

Some people think the governor should have relied primarily on state agency spending cuts. But at midyear this would be difficult, as Kenneth Adams, president of the Business Council of New York State Inc., told an Assembly panel on Wednesday.

“Reductions in local assistance spending are essential, since local assistance accounts for the vast majority (78 percent) of all state taxpayer-financed spending,” he said.

Is the Paterson plan flawless? No. But it is a serious first step toward solving a problem too many others would like to ignore.

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