Shuttering parks for winter is just the tip of iceberg
First published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008
As a sign of the long, cold winter ahead in more ways than one, the notice from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation did not move the planets out of alignment.
But it was an ominous sign all the same.
Because of budget constraints, the relatively new state park on Schodack Island will be closed for the winter. So will another small park in the central part of the state, some boat launches and a few winter programs
As a practical matter, Schodack Island doesn't get a lot of use in the winter anyway. Unlike, say, Thacher up in the Helderbergs or Grafton in Rensselaer County, both of which offer very popular and varied winter sports and activities.
Closing Schodack Island for the winter will only save the state about $83,000, a spokesman said, The roads won't be plowed, the parking lot will be chained closed and there will no bathroom facilities.
But because 83 percent of the agency's budget goes toward operating parks and their programs, there's not much wiggle room when mandated cuts are imposed on the existing budget, as they have been. Twice this year already.
At the Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs other state parks and recreation programs — don't ask — planned cutbacks for the same reason are so far equally modest. One tow rope at the beginner slope and one lift will be closed at Belleayre, about 10 percent of the operation. Elsewhere, a couple of maintenance offices will be consolidated.
But don't fool yourself for a second. These are only the smallest of hints of things to come.
Not a one among the state's wisest fiscal prognosticaters can tell us yet how bad it's going to get, but that it most certainly will be bad remains a safe bet.
The bottom line of what we will witness between the Legislature's Nov. 18 special session and and the end of the next budget cycle, around April 1, is a profound downsizing of what we can reasonably expect our state government to do for us. Closing or tightly restricting the use of other state parks and recreational facilities is the least of it.
The really big ticket items for the state budget, Medicaid and education funding, will have to take major hits. The only question is how much.
New York's platinum Medicaid benefits have to be scaled back, and that's all there is to it. We can't afford it anymore.
On the education side, tell Washington to stick No Child Left Behind in its ear. Many other states have done so already, because it is a largely ineffective, mostly unfunded mandate driving up the cost of local school budgets.
Some of my conservative friends, I'm sure are saying, ah-men to much of that.
Those same folks, though, who tend to be Republican, have to be blanching at the promises Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is making concerning no cuts ahead in education spending. Those assurances are mindboggling given the state's catastrophic revenue stream.
There is such a thing as going too far with political opportunism. Skelos has slipped into irresponsible by promising the New York State United Teachers union that his house won't entertain education budget cuts.
Given that we don't know where we're going in terms of state finances, those are promises that can't be made. Or worse, they guarantee gridlock in upcoming delicate negotiations for the downsizing of our government, which is bound to be ahead of us.
Education cuts have to on the table.
Now, I do not fault the teachers unions for backing whoever they think will give them what they want. The union represents a special interest. No doubt, we'll be hearing from the health care industy and related unions along the same lines.
How can the Republican Senate feverishly vote for tax caps, and at the same time hold the line against education cuts when we have drastically reduced revenues? Those are absolute opposites in terms of effect on the taxpayer.
It's the logic of desperation politics, I suppose.
Certainly the infusion of scads of NYSUT lobbying money and the union's phone banks promoting endorsed Republican candidates might help the GOP keep their Senate majority.
Although the promises necessary for NYSUT's support could fuel a backlash against them just as easily. Not to mention pose quite a dilemma when the time comes to actually make good on those promises.
Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at email@example.com.