Q: and A:
New York State gubernatorial candidate George Patake says state taxes are too high, spending is out of control, and a recent proposal to reform state bonding practices won't do the job. His solution: dump Gov. Mario Cuomo.
As far as Pataki is concerned, Cuomo is to blame for all the state's fiscal problems. This year's budget surplus, Pataki maintains, is really the result of a political gift from Cuomo's Democratic ticket mate, state comptroller H. Carl McCall. Following an illegal pension fund raid in 1990, McCall this year allowed the governor to repay the state's pension system gradually, a move that largely eliminated any immediate impact on state coffers.
Pataki also says that Cuomo, who has been governor since 1983, is to blame for the state's low credit rating. New York ranks among the poorest credits in the nation, and despite some fiscal improvements, failed to win an expected upgrade earlier this summer from Standard & Poors Corp., which rates state GOs A-minus.
But the Peekskill republican, currently a state senator, also faces questions on a few topics, including the accuracy of his statements about Cuomo's fiscal record and his independence or lack of it from U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the man who pushed for Pataki's nomination by the Republicans.
Pataki discusses Cuomo's policies and his own aims in an interview with staff reporter Charles Gasparino.
Q: Fiscal 1994 ended in a surplus, and many analysts say Gov. Mario M. Cuomo deserves some credit. From what I've read, you don't agree.
A: Well, the fiscal '94-95 budget may have showed a surplus, but again it's because of gimmicks, like the controller putting off the repayment of the illegal raid of the pension fund until after the election. We have at least a $4 billion obligation there because of what the governor did to illegally change the method of contribution to the system.
Q: The solution that Comptroller H. Carl McCall came up with helped avert a massive tax increase, so what would you have done?
A: I think you have to have a realistic repayment schedule instead of one that defers everything until after an election. It has been the policy of this administration to look for the quick fixes or to get past the next election and then worry about it.
Q: When you get into office, will you call for a more timely repayment schedule?
A: We're going to look to try to make sure that the repayment occurs in a timely manner. Obviously, it depends on the fiscal condition of the state. The comptroller has outlined this. We will revisit it and take a look at it.
Q: In some of your speeches you have called for reducing state government and have criticized Cuomo for not doing so. Specifically, how do you plan to reduce state government's size?
A: We have got to cut spending. This year's budget increases spending by over $5 billion, more than three times the rate of inflation. I would put in place a limited hiring freeze, where we could save significant funds by not filling nonessential state bureaucratic positions. We have to look at some of the agencies like the state education department, where the bureaucracy in Albany costs us more than $300 million a year. There are those agencies that can be abolished like the energy office, which has stayed around since the gasoline crisis of 1974 performing many services I don't think are essential.
Q: Several news accounts suggest that you may not have been totally accurate in your portrayal of New York State under Cuomo as leading the nation in taxing and spending.
A: Well, what they're saying is that when I say New York's number one in taxes, if you look at the combined tax burden, we are number one with the exception of Alaska, which has the excise tax on oil that accounts for the bulk of its revenues. I will give Mario Cuomo his due. We are number one in taxes with the exception of the petroleum excise taxes, which Alaska collects from the large oil companies. I think the people of the state understand that however you slice it, [the amount of taxation in New York] is unacceptable.
Q: How about state spending? The figures I see suggest that we are not at the top of that category, though we are high up.
A: Again, it's not a question of just state spending. It's not a question of state and local government spending. It's also spending of schools. It's also spending on other things like the authorities. And if you add up all the different governmental spending items, including the education, the level of spending in this state is far too high, and taxpayers don't get fair value for the dollars that the state spends.
Q: Do you have a specific plan for tax cuts?
A: I can tell you we are going to have real and dramatic tax cuts beginning in year one and not just symbolic measures. We're going to lower the personal income tax. We're going to abolish the so-called temporary corporate surcharge and Subchapter S surcharge.
Q: Do you see a need to eliminate some of the state authorities as part of your plan to reduce the state's bureaucracy?
A: We have to gain control over the authorities and stop using them simply as a gimmick to help Cuomo with his schemes. The classic example is the sale of Attica prison to the Urban Development Corp. for $200 million, and the placing of that revenue in the budget as a cost of $500 million.
Q: But would you eliminate any of the authorities?
A: We're going to look at them. I don't want to piecemeal -- say that this or that agency or authority will be cut. We're.going to be looking at the means to dramatically control state spending so that tax cuts can be put in place.
Q: What is your opinion about the debt reform proposal advocated by Gov. Cuomo and Comptroller McCall?
A: I think we need debt reform, something that ends the back door borrowing which has made our state indebtedness so incredibly high. But I think the proposals that have been advanced aren't tough enough. They allow too many exemptions and exceptions and too high a cap so that the state could borrow without voter approval. This could continue at a rate that I think is unacceptable.
Q: Would you support some borrowing without voter approval? As you know, the constitution requires voter approval for the sale of state debt even though the Cuomo Administration has used various legal devices to circumvent the rule.
A: I think if we had a low enough cap and a tight enough system so that you didn't have an automatic waiver to issue bonds to close a deficit, then I think it's something we should consider. But I happen to have greater confidence in the voters than in the politicians. I think that the voter approval provision of the constitution is an important one that we need to try to abide by.
Q: Another guy who thinks the voter approval clause is important is Robert L. Schula who has sued the state for its borrowing practices. Schulz will probably be the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, and you two recently met. What did you speak about?
A: Well, I think Schulz has been out front in going beyond the political process to bring lawsuits to challenge some of these gimmicks. I think Schulz has done a service to the people of this state, and that's doubly true when you look at his efforts to end the gimmicks like the sale of Attica prison. That's not to say that I agree with him on all of the issues, or on all of the lawsuits. But I think in many instances it's unfortunate that under this administration, it's taken a lawsuit to make the governor comply with the law.
Q: During your meeting, did you ask Schulz not to run for governor?
A: I think to the extent that this contest can be a clear one, just between myself and Mario Cuomo, that's in everybody's interest. But I didn't ask him not to run. If he chooses to, that's perfectly appropriate.
Q: But you did make it clear to him that your preference is that he shouldn't run?
A: Well, I think when you look at the fact that I have been a strong fiscal conservative, opposing everything from the pension raids to the unbalanced budgets, that I would hope that those who share those beliefs would help me to win the election.
Q: A lot of people in the market are saving, including Bob Schulz, that your election will result in a vast patronage machine for Sen. Alfonse D 'Amato. What is your response?
A: This campaign is not about replacing a Democrat with a Republican or Cuomo with Pataki. It's about truly changing the direction of this state. Sen. D'Amato fights harder in Washington than any senator this state has had, certainly in my memory and probably in most other people's, and I'm very grateful for his support, But I owe him one thing, and that's the same thing I owe all New Yorkers. When he makes a suggestion that I think is right. I will try to do it, and when he makes a suggestion I think is wrong, I will tell him I think he's wrong and not support it.