David Paterson Vetoes His Way to Tabloid Glory
David Paterson would have you believe that he did the only responsible thing by vetoing almost 7,000 appropriation bills passed by his former Democratic colleagues in the Legislature. He is even taking a veto victory tour, sustained by the fact that the Republican minority in the State Senate, which he spent most of his career trying to defeat, now has his back and will kill an override.
Actually, only one other governor, South Carolina's GOP headline grabber Mark Sanford, who at first rejected the stimulus money altogether, vetoed a budget because it lacked a contingency plan if the Medicaid funding dies. Paterson and Sanford will both soon depart office awash in personal scandal.
Twenty-four recently adopted state budgets did precisely what the one Paterson vetoed did. They assumed that the Congress would eventually pass a stalled Medicaid rescue bill. Only 15 states adopted budgets that didn't contain that assumption. Eight states do budgets every two years, and Michigan, California and New York have yet to figure out which way to go. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed budgets predicated on the funding, as Paterson's did until the governor ran away from this assumption just days before the celebrated vetoes.
Some states, like North Carolina and Massachusetts, wound up removing the assumption from their budgets at the last minute, as Paterson urged New York's Legislature to do. But North Carolina substituted raids on its rainy day and disaster relief funds, reductions in its pension contributions and hikes in its lottery projections. Massachusetts adopted some of the same gimmicks, coupled with highly selective appropriation vetoes by Governor Deval Patrick (unlike Paterson's), hardly a recipe for safe budgetary cooking.
Most Democratic and Republican legislatures and governors across the country, including New Jersey's decidedly conservative Chris Christie, decided instead to stall crushing, countercyclical cuts until the fate of the Medicaid funding is clear, a decision that may raise legitimate questions but merits nothing like the tabloid ridicule that's so tilted the debate in New York.
As Michael Leachman from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it in a Voice interview: "Most states assume the Medicaid extension. If Congress doesn't extend additional fiscal relief, most states will have to come back and face a shortfall in their ability to pay for their schools, healthcare and public safety." Or as Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell explained yesterday on Morning Joe, using a slightly exaggerated number: "Thirty states put the extension in their budget, including Pennsylvania. If we lose it, it's going to be a billion dollars we are going to have to cut from the budget." Though Pat Buchanan was asking Rendell about the Medicaid funding, neither he nor anyone else questioned Rendell's congenial and accepted explanation.
Joining these governors and legislators were many mayors of large cities, including Mike Bloomberg, whose fiscal probity was praised by the same editorial-page drumbeaters who pushed Paterson to veto a state budget that mimicked the city's. The aid, which is designed to compensate for the rise in the Medicaid rolls spurred by the meltdown, passed both houses of Congress in different forms and is backed by the president, but so far hasn't obtained a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.