Reducing New York’s Budget Deficit and Reforming Local Government: The Need for Consolidation

Shane J. Egan, Staff Writer

New York State is facing growing budget deficits that are a threat to the long-term viability of the state.[1]  New York State leaders will have to make some very difficult choices in the months and years ahead about how to close these record budget deficits.  The financial panic of last fall combined with the historic economic downturn that followed will mean that the state will have to spend less.  According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York depends on Wall Street for up to twenty percent of its revenue.[2]  While it is likely that we have made it through the worst of this recession, the New York State government will have to adapt to this new economic reality. 

New York has very few good options to close the budget gap.  The state could, of course, raise taxes, but in this author’s opinion, this is not the right course of action because raising taxes on an already overtaxed state[3] will only stifle economic growth and innovation.  Borrowing money is another option that is simply not feasible.  The Governor has stated that he, “fears rating agencies would downgrade the state’s credit standing if New York used loans to address the financial crisis.”[4]  Finally, the aid New York State receives from the American Investment and Recovery Act is only a short-term solution to the state’s budget deficit, which does nothing to solve the underlying problem — too much spending.

One area where spending can be cut is in the form of state aid to local government entities.[5]  Reducing the number of local government entities will allow the state to reduce its expenditure on aid to local government entities and at the same time help avoid painful cuts in important areas like education and healthcare.  New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has put forward a plan that overhauls the current process of municipal consolidation.[6]  The plan streamlines the process of consolidation by allowing municipalities to consolidate in a more efficient manner. 

Continue reading “Reducing New York’s Budget Deficit and Reforming Local Government: The Need for Consolidation”

Being Smart on Crime: Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Andrew Dructor, Staff Writer

The election season promised “change” and discussion of “change” has remained relevant as the government continues to look for solutions to put a halt to the economic free-fall. This change has involved federal government bail-outs in order to try and cure mistakes and instances of poor judgment in order to revitalize the economy.  However, at the same time states across the nation are seeking ways to bail themselves out of budget deficits.  The New York Times has noted that that this has led to a broad “trend in which states are trying to cut the costs of being tough on crime” with proposals to abolish the death penalty, release non-violent offenders early,1 and even legalize marijuana.2 Does this mean that these states are choosing to be soft on crime, or are these economic struggles and budget deficits propelling a bigger change in the debate over whether some of these crime-fighting costs are actually achieving their intended purposes and, if not, how can we improve the criminal justice system?

Currently, New York finds itself in the same dilemma as other states across the country.  It has a $14 billion budget shortage and is also in the midst of exploring changes to its criminal justice system.  This reform has focused on the Rockefeller Drug Laws which mandate prison sentences based on the weight of the drug involved.3 The law came into existence in 1973 in order to halt the rising drug use and crime rate by “frighten[ing] drug users out of their habit and drug dealers out of their trade.”4 As Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, explains, “For instance, a person convicted of possessing one-half ounce of a narcotic drug must be sentenced to prison, no questions asked. Possession of 2 ounces of methamphetamine is punishable by mandatory imprisonment of up to 10 years.”5 On the other hand, an individual convicted of assault that causes “serious injury to another person” faces a sentence of two to seven years.6 The mandatory sentences require prison unless a prosecutor gives consent to send the drug abuser to a treatment program.7 The law allows no judicial discretion in the sentencing process.

However, many studies dispute whether the law actually achieves its purpose. “Most scientific evidence,” the scholars observe, “suggests that there is little if any relationship between fluctuations in crime rates and incarceration rates”8 and “according to government sources, illicit drugs are more easily accessible than ever.”9 One individual convicted under the Rockefeller Drug Laws commented in the New York Times that being sent away with murderers and other criminals failed to scare him away from drugs.  “It’s not a deterrent, because they come out bitter, angry, confused, and they just go back where they left off,” he said of prison. “There, you’re so busy thinking about survival that you don’t have time to make changes in yourself.”10 Fortunately, he was able to end his drug dependency following prison by attending drug treatment programs.11 Continue reading “Being Smart on Crime: Real Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws”