Albany's vote on Monday to raise tobacco taxes and collect elusive revenue from Indian cigarette sales identified one solid source of new money. But the other budget-plugging number is just mirrors and smoke.
Gov. David A. Paterson proposed the new taxes as part of his 12th consecutive weekly package of emergency spending bills. He's counting on $290 million a year from higher taxes on cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. A pack of cigarettes will now sell for about $9.20, up from $7.60. Raising the cost of these addictive, poisonous products will motivate some people to quit - that's good.
But Paterson has budgeted another $150 million in taxes on cigarette sales from Indian stores, even though three governors have tried and failed to collect this revenue. He may have a better approach than his predecessors - negotiating one-on-one with the tribes is respectful - but New York shouldn't count on this money. A Seneca leader has called the plan an act of war.
The Paterson administration is likewise posting $250 million on its books in state workforce savings - for a proposal that won't take effect until after Jan. 1, when he's left office. This is more wishful thinking, and could leave New York in the hard spot of making midyear budget cuts - again.
The governor and lawmakers say they are closing in on the state's $9.2-billion deficit. But to do it meaningfully, they need to tally more realistic numbers. hN