Facing the most difficult fiscal crisis in a generation, Gov. David Paterson delivered a grim but hopeful message to New Yorkers.
"Let me come straight to the point – the state of our state is perilous," Paterson said, noting an estimated 225,000 New Yorkers will be laid off by time this recession has run its course. "This is a time for action, a time for courage, a time for hope ... These problems may last for many more months or even years. But we can solve them and, with courage, we can craft a brighter, smarter future for New York."
In his first State of the State address, Paterson reiterated the state's dire financial outlook already outlined in the Executive Budget proposal he released in December.
While acknowledging the state faces several challenges, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi urged state leaders not to balance the budget on the backs of students and working families.
"We agree with the governor that the road ahead will be difficult, but how New York recovers from this crisis depends on the route it chooses," said Iannuzzi. "Maintaining New York's investment in public education - at a time when schools are making progress ending the achievement gap and families are increasingly turning to SUNY, CUNY and community colleges for education and training - is the best way to get the state's economy moving forward again."
One consideration, Iannuzzi and NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin noted, must be asking the state's wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share. "Asking the most affluent New Yorkers to pay a slightly higher personal income tax would enable the state to better maintain its commitment to education and health care," Lubin said.
Paterson focused much of his address on meeting the health care needs of New Yorkers, including expanding health insurance coverage and addressing the childhood obesity epidemic. Preparing students for college is only half the battle, Paterson said, noting lawmakers must do more to assure all students have access to affordable higher education. The governor reiterated his support for a property tax cap. Paterson also announced an ambitious "45 by 15" clean energy initiative which calls for the state to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and clean renewable energy by the year 2015.
"Today, New York State is faced with difficult decisions ... We face a series of savage fiscal choices and are confronted with the worst budget deficit in the history of our state," Paterson said. "Our government must now do what New York families have been doing for years – make painful choices about what we can and cannot afford. ... We must sacrifice what we want today so that we can pay for what we need tomorrow. But this must be a shared sacrifice – we must all share the pain. And we should always keep our eyes on our brighter future."