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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"The table of economic competition"
ALBANY, Oct. 31 -- Anyone who’s ever watched ESPN’s
“World Series of Poker” realizes
Let’s stretch the analogy to New York State’s current place at the table of national and global economic competition. One thing we know for sure is that we’re sitting at a table with some of the world’s smartest, most savvy competitors. So we better be on our game. In many ways, we are. In fact we hold a pretty impressive pile of chips – natural resources, world class colleges and universities, a high quality work force, an impressive foundation of industries and small businesses, Fortune 500 corporations, and so many other building blocks of success.
But New York’s also holding a full house of challenges – Medicaid reform, mandate relief, high taxes, onerous regulations and the dealer just turned over one more card that I’ll focus on shortly. If New York plays this hand right (translated: if we address these challenges head on), the odds are that we stand to win a table full of economic opportunities and stronger communities. But if we hold on to this hand for too long, or play it wrong, we’re facing a long string of missed chances and a pocketful of “what could have beens.”
We’ve devoted a lot of time, effort and resources in 2011 to putting in place an economic and fiscal reform agenda that promises to help us play the hand we’ve been dealt effectively – Medicaid redesign, as well as structures for meaningful mandate relief, lower taxes and fewer regulations. But we can’t forget my earlier point that another, far less noticed card still waits to be turned over: high debt.
This issue of state debt has been brought to the forefront by a just-released report from a group known as State Budget Solutions, a government reform group focused on state governments. The organization’s second annual report sounds a few alarms. First: the aggregate debt of all of America’s 50 states is more than $4 trillion, up from $1.7 trillion just over 15 months ago in July 2010. In other words, state debt across the nation is on a rapid ascent [read the report online at [www.statebudgetsolutions.org/].
“These deficit numbers are staggering and should be frightening to the American public. Due to budget gimmicks, many states fail to give an adequate picture of how much trouble they are really in,” the group’s president said. “This report makes it clear that if legislators don’t act immediately and decisively, our country will be facing a budget crisis that we have never seen before.”
California has the largest debt -- $117.4 billion or a little over $3,000 per capita. Second highest? I’m sure most of you guessed right: New York. The Empire State’s debt is $55.2 billion, or $2,829 per person. Rounding out the top five states with the highest debt load are Texas, New Jersey and Illinois, respectively.
Not a dose of good news by any means, but maybe the kind of straight up, stark, sober look in the eye that any state with a bad spending habit needs. And lending further credence to the warning are similar findings from the New York State comptroller’s office in its 2011 Financial Condition Report. There it is again, on pages 18-19. New York State was the second-most indebted state in America in 2010. New York’s “state-funded debt outstanding per person was $3,184” as of this past March. And “debt service is among the fastest growing categories” of the state budget. [Find the comptroller’s report online at www.osc.state.ny.us]
Just like any family facing a debt crisis, governments facing large debts, like New York, face limited choices. The resources being gobbled up to pay back debt diminish the ability to invest (or reinvest) in economic growth. It limits the ability to undertake badly needed initiatives, programs, projects or services. It makes it harder to respond to unexpected crises. I noted in this column just last week, for example, that more money from the state’s dedicated highway and bridge trust fund goes toward paying the debt on old road projects than on badly needed new ones. Getting off the high-debt list must be in the cards for New York too.
This year’s state budget cut state spending and didn’t authorize any new state borrowing. That’s a start and it points us in the right way, but make no mistake that the political pressure’s going to build next year to restore spending that was cut – and even increase spending yet again.
So we need to remember that every New Yorker today is on the hook for approximately $3,000 because of existing state debt. And until we start to reduce this debt and, someday, get out from under it, we simply can’t expect to walk away from the table of economic competition as a champion of economic growth and private-sector job creation.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869