Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

New Jersey completed its budget on time yesterday - and not before first-term Gov. Chris Christie did a bit of regional preening. "Our financial situation was even worse than New York's," he was quoted saying the other day, "but is on its way to getting better."

Maybe, but consider the starting point. Christie's state has had the highest property taxes in America. Trenton this year had to close a deficit of $11 billion in a $29-billion budget. So lawmakers cut $848 million worth of property tax rebates for seniors and the disabled. They sliced $820 million in school aid. They chopped nearly $450 million in municipal aid.

Even after three months of blown budget deadlines, the fiscal and ethical follies of Albany look more like a sad cliche among state capitals than a glaring aberration.

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In recent years, the Empire State seemed to give the Garden State a run for the laundered money when it came to political and personal implosions. We've had a governor, a state comptroller, a longtime Senate majority leader and various side players go down in steady succession.

Still, when "The Daily Beast" issued its rankings of the most corrupt states, New York came out only 20th in political corruption (though we were No. 1 for racketeering and extortion overall). Washington, D.C., led the pack, followed by Alaska. Whatever the validity of the website's ratings, New York's primacy in corruption is at least arguable.

Our common ground with other states goes beyond bad behavior and beyond the region.

Red flags are raised everywhere over state employee pension funds. In Illinois, for example, the retirement age has been hiked to 67, with a new $106,800 cap on the salary from which those pensions are calculated.

On the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the organization's director of state services, Ronald K. Snell, says: "We're seeing the intersection of very, very difficult fiscal times for state legislatures and a fall in the investment portfolios of retirement funds. It's extremely difficult to conceive of maintaining the status quo."

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Sound familiar?

Medicaid funding, a point of fierce contention between Gov. David A. Paterson and the legislature, vexes at least 30 states. Congress has rejected billions of dollars in extra help. In a letter this week to his congressional delegation, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said: "I support restraining federal spending, but cutting the only funding designed to help states maintain the very safety-net programs Congress mandates us to preserve will have devastating consequences."

Paterson could have written that.

California's deficit is projected at more than a fifth of the state's total budget. With a new fiscal year starting Thursday, no budget agreement is reported. Last year, Sacramento blew the deadline and printed IOUs when the state ran out of cash.

And did you suppose New York owned a franchise on dubious fiscal gimmicks?

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In April, Arizona drew international attention with the most sweeping immigration enforcement law in memory. Less famously, the state also put up its Capitol and other state buildings up for sale - crafting lease-back arrangements that draw cash now and cost taxpayers later. (Just for fun, see Daily Show goof below). Last month, the Copper State borrowed $450 million against future lottery revenue, sidestepping a legal debt cap.

As lousy as we look, we may just be the American norm.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona State Capitol Building for Sale
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party