For the last several months, Iíve been trying to wrap my head around the true extent of the economic crisis we face at both the state and national level. (Without much success, I might add.) It truly is a mess of staggering proportions. I certainly donít envy the jobs of either our esteemed Governor or the President of this great country. There is no easy answer. No measure will be without cost, and no plan will be without opposition.
Iím willing to take the wait-and-see approach with the federal stimulus package. For now, anyway. But Iím afraid I canít do the same for Governor Patersonís proposals. They would just be too devastating for our local economy.
My frustration stems from the fact that the governor seems so set on balancing the state budget, that he seems to blatantly ignore the fact his efforts may very well send us deeper into the depths of economic depression. His goals seem almost contrary to those of our president.
This has been hammered home to me more than ever in the last few weeks. Whether it is sitting in school board meetings, listening to radio ads about Camp Pharsalia or having countless conversations with friends and colleagues, Iíve had my questions about the potential impact of the governorís proposals answered over and over again
What will state budget cuts mean to us locally? Let me sum it up. These cuts in education, healthcare and a slew of other areas mean one thing: more jobs lost in Chenango County. Add in the roughly $3 billion in new taxes and fees Paterson still wants, and what do you get? Even more jobs lost in Chenango County. Does that sound like sound public policy to you? Because, it sure doesnít to me.
Twice in the last two weeks I have heard local districts talk about positions that will need to be cut. When it comes down to it, it doesnít really matter if these staffing cuts are a districtís last resort, or their first impulse. Itís hard to hear, and to take, either way. But whether I support their plans or not, I know as well as they do that already over-burdened taxpayers canít handle a 30 percent tax levy increase. And for some, that would be their only recourse save drastic cuts to student programs.
I am deeply concerned that our education system will be yet another example of upstate taking the fall for the governorís ďnobleĒ efforts to balance the budget.
Then there is Camp Pharsalia. Iíve heard several radio spots advocating to keep this and several other minimum security prisons around the state open. Sound familiar? It should. We fought this same battle a year ago. At that time it was estimated that closure of the camp would come at a cost of more than 100 jobs and be a $13 million economic blow to the county.
Could our struggling local economy weather that kind of blow? Itís hard to fathom.
The problem, really, is that many of Patersonís proposals arenít cuts. They are shifts. They are an attempt by the governor to shift the responsibility, as well as the greater tax burden, onto us. Weíll pay for it all one way or another. He just wants it off his books.
I think of our local unemployment rate, which is right around 10 percent, and I think of how these job losses will affect us. Because that too is a shift. If Patersonís cuts go through, our taxes may not be paying their salaries and wages any more, but weíll certainly be supporting the social services system which theyíll need to tap into to get by.
Personally, Iíd rather see my tax dollars working to keep people employed rather than dependent ďon the system.Ē How about you?
It all paints a somewhat dismal picture of what the future could bring for our upstate communities. A slow degradation of our education system, a decline in health care, sky high unemployment and overburdened public assistance. And to top it all off, weíve got the threat of a buzzing high voltage electric transmission line hanging over our heads.
We canít just sit back and let this happen.