NEW YORK — With 2008 just four years away, it’s not too early to rule New York governor George Elmer Pataki unfit for the GOP nomination. Republicans should study his record and keep him as far from their party’s ticket as Albany is from Albuquerque.
After 10 years as governor, Pataki’s legacy rests on three legs: an anemic economy, a listless state Republican party, and a deteriorating ethical climate.
The Pacific Research Institute recently measured economic freedom in all 50 states. While PRI ranked Kansas No. 1 overall, New York State was dead last at No. 50. It was rated 42nd on regulation, 47th on fiscal affairs, and 50th on government size, welfare spending, and income redistribution.
As this country’s most economically repressed state, New York is America’s North Korea with Pataki as its Kim Il-Sung. To be fair, Pataki neither starves his people nor stashes atomic weapons (as far as we know). He does possess, however, an annoyingly anti-Republican lust for big government that has hobbled the Empire State.
Hudson Institute president Herbert London notes that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $105.3 billion fiscal year 2005 budget spends $2,967 per capita on 35.5 million citizens. New York’s $101.3 billion fiscal plan, in contrast, spends $5,276 per capita on 19.2 million people. Even worse, New York’s 20th consecutive delayed budget was due April 1 but was adopted August 11. While state legislators are mainly to blame, the largely unassertive, often invisible Pataki neither can inspire nor dragoon lawmakers into adult behavior.
“It’s difficult to imagine that Pataki has a future as a national leader after he’s brought New York to its knees,” London says. “Not everyone in America knows George Pataki, but those who know Pataki don’t want him to do for America what he’s done for New York.”
While Albany faces a $6 billion budget deficit, Pataki himself stars in brand-new TV commercials in which he recruits Medicaid applicants. The ads are targeted not only at the destitute, but at small business owners and recent college graduates. Not surprisingly, Medicaid enrollment has rocketed 14.75 percent from 3.39 million beneficiaries in June 2002 to 3.89 million taxpayer-subsidized participants last month. In other words, 20.26 percent of New Yorkers are on Medicaid.
New Yorkers pay $141 in combined state and local taxes per $1,000 in income. America’s highest tax burden is 26 percent above the national average. Local taxes alone are 71 percent above average. These Citizens Budget Commission figures are for fiscal year 2000 and do not reflect subsequent state and local tax hikes that have uglified this picture.
State and local taxes are both pertinent here, since they are so entwined.
“New York has the largest Medicaid program in the country,” says Manhattan Institute senior fellow Steven Malanga. “It’s the size of California’s and Texas’ Medicaid programs combined. Municipalities are forced to pay half the state’s cost. No other state does this. In most places, local taxes fund education. In New York, local taxes pay for Medicaid and education. In some municipalities, Medicaid eats up more money than education, and there’s nothing really like that anywhere else.”
Even as he impoverishes New Yorkers, Pataki has let the Empire State GOP drift like an unanchored Hudson River barge. Top Republicans are not enjoying the ride.
The state GOP has “no overwhelming vision or course,” Congressman Peter King (R – Long Island) complained to the New York Post.
“We’re now headed in the direction of a party that doesn’t stand for anything anymore,” Congressman John Sweeney (R – Saratoga) told the Associated Press. “I think the governor has to do a reassessment of how he’s been functioning as the leader of our party.” Sweeney added: “We’ve lost our way, and the election returns show it.”
This paucity of principle indeed has devastated Republican candidates. In 2002, GOP executives lost in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties. Democrats now control the once-Republican Nassau and Westchester legislatures. Last November, Democrats boosted their minority State Senate caucus and expanded their State Assembly majority. As GOP activist George Marlin wrote in the November 7 New York Post: “The 35 powerless Republican legislators, known for their ability to stare into space, merely serve as decorations in the Assembly chamber.”
To challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Pataki plucked from obscurity State Assemblyman Howard “I am not into labels” Mills. He quickly returned there after scoring just 24 percent to Schumer’s 71 — New York’s severest Senate drubbing ever.
Placing Pataki at the national helm similarly would send the GOP barge right over Niagara Falls.
Finally, a sleazy breeze buffets Pataki as his allies keep landing in trouble.
Pataki’s plan to expand Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center typically features $350 million in fresh borrowing, a new 5 percent airport car rental tax, elimination of the standard lowest-bid requirement, plus language to prevent state comptroller’s audits.
Former state senator Guy Velella earned one year in prison for taking bribes. The Local Conditional Release Commission, an obscure Gotham agency, suddenly and illegally freed the Bronx Republican boss September 28 after barely three months’ incarceration. Three days earlier, the Pataki Administration gave a promotion and 10 percent raise to Eugenio Russi, brother of LCRC chairman Raul Russi. Coincidence? Pataki’s cronies are under scrutiny.
Democratic state comptroller Alan Hevesi canceled a 2001 contract with Richard A. Hutchens to build at least $21.7 million in residences on state property beside the 524-mile-long Erie Canal. According to state attorney general Eliot Spitzer, New York State Canal Corporation staffers gave Hutchens inside information so he could secure a non-competitive bid for these lucrative development rights for just $30,000. Hutchens — surprise, surprise — has donated $8,000 to Pataki’s political coffers. “Everybody makes a political contribution for a purpose,” Hutchens told investigators.
Spitzer believes that Canal Corp. pursued Hutchens as a political sugar daddy. According to Spitzer’s November 29 report, “at least one staff member also came to view [Hutchens] as a prospect to be mined for campaign contributions.” Canal Corp. staffers nicknamed Hutchens “the golden goose.”
As one of Pataki’s constituents, it is enormously frustrating to hear his name mentioned alongside a truly promising White House prospect: “America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani. There’s nearly nothing GOP about George Elmer Pataki. The sooner Republicans across America fathom that, the safer the Grand Old Party will be in 2008.