Janison: A fiscal crisis unlike any other

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

Make this the modern motto for all levels of government:

"Fiscal stress rolls downhill."

The sentence comes from a national report released this month by the State Budget Crisis Task Force, funded by foundation grants and headed by former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

The 112-page survey, based on a close look at six states including New York, sketches a bleak landscape -- and credibly convinces the reader that today's fiscal troubles go deeper than in the days when elected officials could muddle through and wait for improved economic weather, or for help from on high, where the funds were more flush.

No secrets, but clear problems, are described. Federal deficit reduction, the authors say, "threatens state economies and budgets." Medicaid spending and underfunded pensions burden the states, which often lack the right budget discipline to cope. In turn, local governments have limited options as property tax revenues fall short of needs and obligations.

In a comprehensive look ahead, the report states: "As a result of these fiscal pressures, increasing numbers of local governments are encountering fiscal stress." While bankruptcies and insolvencies are still rare, says the report, "municipal bond downgrades for governments greatly outnumber upgrades and the threat of outright fiscal crisis among localities is increasing."

This isn't the last generation's fiscal crisis -- even if policy makers wish it was.

CATCHING UP: On March 5 David Kidera, director of the state Authorities Budget Office, wrote to Martin Cantor, chairman of the Suffolk County Judicial Facilities Agency, warning that the agency had failed to file required annual reports and audits. "This letter of censure is the result of your collective failure to take appropriate corrective actions when the authority was previously warned," Kidera wrote.

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Contacted Friday, Cantor said document work was delayed at an accounting firm the agency retained, but a firm manager took over the tasks and delinquent reports for 2009 and 2010 have been filed. "We're now in the process of having the [requested] audit completed," he said.

POLITICAL TARGET: The recent movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., prompted a new round of public talk about the gun lobby. Election records show the National Rifle Association political committee in New York sent a single $1,500 contribution from January to July: to Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton).

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