Governor Patterson’s Budget Cutting Machine

Blighty wounds were a serious problem for British military commanders during World War I. Faced with the prospect of extended tours on the front lines, many soldiers turned to self-inflicted wounds as a means to return home (blighty was a word used to refer to Britain). A blighty was an art form as one needed to do enough damage to merit dismissal while not permanently injuring one’s self. New York State Governor David Paterson is now asking the state’s residents to adopt a similar strategy by committing a blighty wound against themselves as part of his plan to slash the budget.

Paterson’s plan involves the most sinister reversal of participatory budgeting ever devised. The new state-sponsored website Reduce NY Spending claims that “New York faces a $47.0 billion deficit over the next four years – the largest in state history” and asks visitors to, “determine how to move forward and implement responsible spending reductions.” You are then asked to use the Budget Balancing Calculator to determine the features of the state budget. There is, of course, one catch. Participants are only able to adjust the spending and not the revenue side of the budget. Thus, you can only cut spending from a variety of sectors of the state budget.

The choices are brutal. Does one cut from School Aid or Medicaid? Mental Health Services or Higher Education? Transportation or Public Health? The blighty wounds mount as one looks through the list. The cuts will have to be large since the governor claims that the budget deficit for this year alone amounts to some $12 billion dollars. The real question is not what will be cut, but, Why should New Yorkers be faced with such choices? Why should we pit teachers against transit workers? Nurses against Counselors? Our safety on NYC buses versus our children’s education? The answer is that we do not. These are the false choices of neoliberalism.

Missing from the Reduce NY Spending website is any mention of a meeting that took place in early 2008 between Governor Paterson and Columbia University Economist Joseph Stiglitz. At the meeting Stiglitz recommended a wealth tax as the most efficient means of closing NY State’s rising budget deficit. A tax of 6% on all income above $5 million would cover an estimated $6 billion of the deficit. Stiglitz favors tax increases because he claims that state and local government spending provides a greater positive economic impact than budget cuts. The implementation of a progressive tax structure, a larger capital gains tax and a small tax on financial transactions conducted in the state would more than cover the rest. Of course, this would mean allowing New Yorkers to adjust the “revenue” side of the Budget Balancing Calculator!

None of this will happen spontaneously. Left to his own devices, Paterson will continue to trumpet a message of cutbacks and the privatization of essential services such as the non-profit health insurers GHI & HIP. Though he may ask for public input on the cuts, New Yorkers can see this as a blighty wound scenario. Instead of self-inflicted wounds, we need to build strong movements to defend the services necessary to the everyday lives of millions. By doing so, New Yorkers will refuse to be divided based on job title or budget line. No website, no matter how slickly constructed, can build a consensus around cutting back on things which should be human rights.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.