Press releases won’t remake Pataki’s legacy – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the  May 6-12, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

A month ago former Gov. George Pataki hosted a “secret” dinner with his few remaining loyalists to discuss his presidential prospects. To make sure everyone in the political world learned of the gathering, the “secret” was leaked to the New York Post, whose editors had the good sense to treat it merely as a Page 6 gossip piece. The result: not a ripple on the political Richter scale.

On April 22, Pataki’s PR flacks earned their keep by placing a Page 1 story in The Wall Street Journal’s “Greater New York” section titled “Pataki Enters Debate over National Debt.” Pataki announced he is forming yet another advocacy group called No American Debt dedicated to pressuring GOP presidential candidates to tackle the national debt.

Expect No American Debt to have as much impact on the national political conversation as the Paul Revere advocacy group he headed in 2010 – none. As many political wags have noted, the primary purpose for Pataki raising money for these causes is to help defray travel and dining costs and to retain his long-time political consulting firm, Mercury Public Affairs.

When asked why he is devoting his energies to the debt issue, Pataki replied that the national debt “is just a looming disaster forAmerica, for my kids, for the next generation of Americans.” Too bad Pataki did not consider the debt burdens on future taxpayers during his 12 years as New York’s governor.

Here are the facts:

During Pataki’s tenure, the state’s debt almost doubled to over $50 billion. This caused annual debt service payments to be one of the state’s fastest-growing budget expenditures. Debt service payments, which stood at $2.5 billion in fiscal 1994-1995, had climbed to $4.3 billion by 2006 and were projected to be $6.4 billion by 2011. “One reason that state debt … continued to rise under Mr. Pataki,” reported The New York Times, “is that his administration has not followed a common principle of paying for capital improvements – everything from maintaining roads to building college dormitories to buying railroad cars. The rule, followed by most states, is that in times of plenty, government pays cash for capital needs, and relies mostly on borrowing in hard times.”

To make matters worse, only half of the new debt was actually dedicated to capital projects. The rest was used for one-shot “noncapital” assets and to fund state budget deficits. Even during the boom years when the state enjoyed record surpluses, Pataki paid for spending schemes with borrowed money.

Reviewing this Red Sea of debt, a New York Observer editorial remarked: “Mr. Pataki may have gotten himself re-elected twice by ignoring reality and throwing money at voters, but he is bound to leave a legacy as a fiscal dunce, a legacy that will surely supersede his desire to be known as a tax-cutting governor with a case to be made for higher office.”

When the Journal asked Pataki aides to explain New York’s debt explosion between 1995 and 2006, they replied Pataki “kept state debt in line with the rate of inflation.” Wrong! According to the New York State Division of the Budget, inflation during the Pataki era was up only 39 percent. However, state-funded debt, which grew from $28 billion to $51 billion during that period, was actually up a whopping 82 percent – over twice the inflation rate.

Pataki and his hired minions governed by press release and now they are trying to rewrite history via press release. The fact is that by abandoning his professed conservative principles, Pataki did enormous fiscal and economic damage to his state. And all the Orwellian new-speak from his flacks will not change the facts.

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