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Paterson's cuts aren't popular, but they are prudent

David Paterson never asked to be governor of New York. He got the job when Elliot Spitzer was forced to resign in disgrace. But that hasnt stopped Paterson from proving himself as a leader. Facing a struggling economy and a budget deficit, Paterson has decided to face the crisis head on. That means slashing state spending immediately. Paterson outlined a $5.2 billion deficit reduction plan last week that would include spending cuts in education and health care, which account for about half of the state budget, and most other line items. Those arent popular positions for a politician. But maybe, just maybe, Paterson isnt a politician. Hes a leader. Paterson, a Democrat, has decided to take on special interest groups and spare state taxpayers an income tax hike. Predictably, many of those who get state money arent pleased with Patersons proposal. Dr. John Rugge, chief executive of Hudson Headwaters Health Network, wants to hold off on the cuts. Rugge said the state and federal government should come up with a comprehensive plan to reform the health care system. Of course, while waiting for that reform millions of dollars will be spent. School administrators claim the state cuts in education aid will result in higher property taxes. That may be the case, but it doesnt have to be if local school districts make the same tough decisions Paterson is willing to face. The Adirondack Council issued a press release, protesting the governor's proposal to use an additional $139 million from the state Environmental Protection Fund for general spending. Lets see, should we purchase more state land or balance our budget? The list of unhappy groups is long, but Paterson should be lauded. Hes trying to balance an out-of-control state budget without increasing income taxes and without cutting state jobs. Besides, Paterson points out, he really isnt proposing any cuts. Actually, the governor has proposed limiting future state spending whats being cut are expected state aid increases. The state would still be spending more money for schools, hospitals and nursing homes than in the previous fiscal year under Patersons plan. Paterson has proposed reducing the planned increase in school aid this year from 9 percent to 5 percent. For health care, the increase would be cut in half, from 2 percent to 1 percent. Legislative approval of the plan is needed. That could be a tough sell since few legislators have shown the courage to stand up to special interest groups the way Paterson has. Many are already calling for more time to study the proposal, apparently hoping they can avoid tough choices if they stall long enough. But theres hope. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican, supports the governor. Sayward said she realizes the budget measures would be tough for schools and hospitals, but the situation is urgent. I dont see the prudence in waiting and addressing it all in January. I mean if I run out of money in my home budget, I cant wait until January to address that issue. Ive got to address it now, she said. At least we have two reasonable people in Albany. Fred Herbst is editor of the Times of Ti. He can be reached at fred@denpubs.com

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