For my home state, Governor David Paterson's budget is a window into the future. Simply put, we are witnessing what happens when New York State ceases to be the financial capital of the world. At the moment the world doesn't really have one as the global economy sorts through massive wreckage. Truthfully, the era of financial centers concentrated in western port cities such as New York or London is a relic.
This had long been been predicted because information technology makes it possible to outsource back office functions remotely and utilize cheap labor. Why pay for New York City real estate and labor when a trader can just as easily play with other people's money from a computer in Dubai? However, until the recent economic catastrophe Wall Street stubbornly hung onto its symbolic trappings as the center of the universe.
As a result, Albany could count on revenues generated from Wall Street to finance union pensions, government services, medicaid spending, corporate welfare, our prison industrial complex and so forth. The financial services industry also generated millions of jobs in our region from stock brokers to janitors. Hence, Wall Street's titans were able to leverage their influence with power brokers such as New York State's senior Senator Charles Schumer.
As many of you know, the New York Times recently profiled the intimate relationship between Wall Street and Schumer. Liberals are justifiably outraged at Schumer's enthusiastic pandering to Wall Street's desire for excessive deregulation and lax oversight in exchange for campaign donations for himself and his party. Instead of a Democrat standing up for working people we elected an enabler of our economic meltdown.
In fairness to Schumer, any New York senator would have to some degree catered to this industry's interests just as Joe Biden championed the banks and credit card industry while representing Delaware. All politics is local as Tip O'Neill used to say and even Wall Street enemy Eliot Spitzer raked in contributions from the financial sector during his 2006 campaign for Governor. That's where the action was that created jobs for New Yorkers and filled the state's coffers.
However, Schumer's excessive pandering to Wall Street has facilitated a calamity for the working people in New York he claims to represent and helped wreck the global economy with it. Figures such as Clinton Treasury Secretary and Wall Street powerhouse Robert Rubin were never Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Today New York is confronted with a $1.7 billion 2008 shortfall and a projected 2009-10 deficit of $13.7 billion while Governor Paterson promotes an "obesity tax." Important government services such as healthcare, education and emergency first responders will take a hit. And New York's Mass Transit Authority ("MTA") with its chronic incompetence in good and bad times will impose painful rate hikes and service cuts in 2009 to make up for its own steep revenue shortfall. As always the working stiffs are hit the hardest.
The pain is no fun and hardships abound for New Yorkers as our manufacturing industry was sucking wind well before Lehman Brothers collapsed, AIG was bailed out and Bernard L. Madoff became a household name. Like all New Yorkers I'm feeling the pain too but thankfully still have a job.
Yet even during this challenging period an opportunity exists. Necessity is a mother to invention and New York needs to reinvent itself. Just as oil is a dangerous narcotic that has arrested the development of petro states the financial services sector and manufacturing industry have undermined New York's ability to retool for the 21st century. Such innovation requires leadership and vision.
Whatever critique one may have with the specifics of Paterson's hardship budget he is at least showing leadership by not ducking the tough choices. Personally though I am dismayed by Paterson's unwillingness to more fairly distribute the pain. He should worry less about taxing millionaires and instead embrace New York's Working Families Party approach of shared sacrifice.
My question though is what sort of people does Paterson listen to as the corporate private sector vies for his favor in New York's new world? Alas, Paterson's consideration of Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate because of her ability to raise millions from friends such as billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg is not encouraging.