Pataki's Presidential Bid Deserves Cement Shoes

This column is designed to drive the final railroad spike into the coffin of George Elmer Pataki’s presidential ambitions.

The Empire State’s drowsy Republican governor drifts off January 1 after 12 years in office—about11 years too late. Pataki is less than just a politician of breathtaking mediocrity; his lack of competence, charisma, and character actually has generated Republican optimism toward Gov.-elect Elliot Spitzer, a busybody liberal Democrat.

As the curtain creaks down on Pataki’s seemingly endless Broadway run, it is vital to this Republic’s health that his threatened national roadshow go nowhere. Pataki should keep his legacy of profligacy, debt, patronage, and influence peddling to himself.

To his credit, Pataki initially cut taxes.

“Among his leading first-term accomplishments were his $3 billion, 25 percent income-tax cut and a substantial cut in the capital gains tax and inheritance tax,” states the Cato Institute’s “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors: 2006.” However, Pataki “raised taxes on net, by more than $3 billion his final term in office.”

As Pataki’s reign of error ends, New York is No. 50 in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. It also has America’s 50th best individual state-tax burden, and is the 47th best place to pay unemployment insurance.

Under Pataki, the state budget has soared 79.5%—from $63.3 billion in 1994 to $113.6 billion in 2006. Pataki’s 12-year-average annual spending rate is 4.9%.

“Pataki’s budgets grew by almost twice as much as inflation,” says Cato scholar Stephen Slivinski. In Pataki’s third term, this spending pace zoomed to 8.3%. In Cato’s latest marks, Pataki’s financial mismanagement earned him a D.

Pataki has borrowed like a pawnshop patron. He has deepened state-funded debt by 61.3%—from $31 billion in 1994 to $50 billion today.

Public-health costs are yet another fiasco. Pataki has starred in local TV commercials in which he encourages people to apply for Child Health Plus, a state Medicaid program. These ads have worked. Even as current Census estimates show New York’s population grew just 0.47% between July 1, 2002, and July 1, 2005 (from 19,164,755 to 19,254,630), state Medicaid enrollees accelerated 20.2% (from 3,568,627 in January 2002 to 4,290,173 in January 2006). Participants in Medicaid’s Family Health Plus program rocketed from 2,864 in January 2002 to 563,100 last January—a 19,561% ascent. Medicaid is swallowing the state budget like a killer whale devouring a walrus. And yet Pataki’s ads stimulate that whale’s appetite.

Pataki’s pay-to-play apparatus is like an old Automat restaurant: cash in, goodies out. In one egregious example, attorney general Spitzer found that, in 2001, the New York State Canal Corp. gave Richard A. Hutchens information that helped him score a non-competitive bid to construct $21.7 million in housing along the Erie Canal. These rights cost him just $30,000—a potential 72,233 percent return on investment. As it happens, Hutchens gave Pataki’s campaign $8,000. “Everybody makes a political contribution for a purpose,” Hutchens told investigators.

November 7 was a disaster for the Empire State GOP. This, however, was no surprise. Terrified of being upstaged by potential candidates with actual talent, Pataki instead has boosted hacks, losers, and also-rans. Consequently, 2007 will see Albany denuded of statewide GOP officials.

Despite all this, Republicans across America have told me, “Rudy Giuliani’s a big liberal, but at least Pataki’s a conservative.” After dropping my drink, I patiently explain that this inverts reality. While Pataki built government like a carpenter on steroids, Giuliani curbed Gotham’s tax burden by $8 billion or 19%; cut real, year-on-year outlays in two of his eight budgets; and, by Cato’s calculations, kept annual average spending at 2.9% vs. Pataki’s 5.9% his last eight years. (Giuliani maintained outlays below his tenure’s 3.6% inflation rate.) Giuliani’s production, not Pataki’s, deserves a national tour.

“Pataki is prepared to give the nation what he gave New York: out-of-control spending, corruption, political favoritism, and neglect,” warns Hudson Institute president Herbert London. “Pataki is an anchor around the ship of state, drowning residents in debt and special favors.”

Drowning, indeed. George Elmer Pataki’s presidential dreams merit a pair of cement shoes and a non-stop trip to the bed of the Hudson River.