Gov. David Paterson (D), facing what could be a difficult primary campaign this year, proposed a plan Jan. 6 that he said would fix New York's shattered finances, rejuvenate its slumping economy and restore trust in government through a series of major ethics reforms.
New York could be confronting a $9 billion budget gap when its fiscal year ends March 31 and is having trouble paying its day to day bills. Paterson called for a cap on spending and asked Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch to develop a four year financial plan that would make structural changes in New York's budget instead of relying on year to year , one- time fixes. And he recommended the state move to a performance based system in which agencies set clear goals and report to taxpayers whether those objectives are being met.
"To rebuild New York, we need to enact fundamental fiscal reform that makes government more accountable to taxpayers. We must enact real and lasting cuts to our State's bureaucracy, merge agencies to improve efficiency and save money, begin the public tracking of agency performance, and develop a long-term strategy for fiscal planning," Paterson told lawmakers.
To create jobs, Paterson proposed tax credits targeting the high technology, biotechnology, clean energy, manufacturing and financial industries.
Paterson was particularly proud of the package of ethics reforms he offered to the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The centerpiece of the ethics legislation is an independent, five-member Government Ethics Commission overseeing the three branches of government.
"This commission would have the power to enforce campaign finance laws, end pay-to-play and finally bring oversight to so-called good government groups that hide their (campaign) donors behind walls of sanctimony," Paterson said. He also called for reducing the maximum campaign contributions allowed, banning corporate contributions and instituting a public campaign financing system.
The governor also recommending limiting the terms of statewide officeholders and legislators, who are up for election this fall.
Paterson's second State of the State address was intended to help boost his own fortunes as well as the state's. After replacing Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in a scandal in 2008, Paterson has prepared to run for election to a four-year term. As the state's financial condition has plummeted, so has Paterson's standing with New York voters. A solid majority favor Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over Paterson in a Democratic primary, polls show.