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If New York State Was a Country, Would It Be Greece or Iceland?

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Another day, another disaster.

Gov. David Paterson's plan to save money with a one-day furlough of state workers has been blocked by a federal judge. It was expected. Some of the state legislators who voted to approve the idea said they hoped it would happen.

Generally, you don't see a legislator simultaneously pass a bill and beg a judge to throw it out in court, but at this point that's the least of our worries.

Meanwhile, over in the executive branch, the Governor authorized raises for five aides - never a good idea at a time when you're trying to cut the pay of unionized employees.

Paterson said the employees had taken over the responsibilities of four key staffers who quit because of a probe by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Which everyone had forgotten about, since it happened several crises ago.

Then Paterson changed his mind and rescinded the raises, saving the state approximately $48,000 a year and placating no one.

If New York was a country, would it be Greece or Iceland?

The state is careening without a budget from month to month. Localities and school districts don't know how to organize their own finances because they have no idea what's going to be coming from the state.

The problem is that there's nobody to be afraid of. New York is not a place that operates on rational debate or long-term planning. Power comes from two things: money and fear. Right now we don't have either one.

Take the labor unions. Their leaders' refusal to accept any sacrifices whatsoever in the current crisis is less than inspiring. But the job of a union leader is to fight for the membership, not to balance budgets or suggest ways to make the rank-and-file's life less pleasant. They can make concessions only when their members become convinced the alternatives are worse.

So far, nobody's done that. Legislators won't - their prime directive is to win votes, not inflict pain. Paterson can't - he feels he's bound by a deal he made last year in which he promised no layoffs this year in return for union concessions. And nobody listens to David Paterson anyway. He's something beyond a lame duck. A dead duck.

"There is no silver lining this time," said Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat. "We're not going to suddenly find the money under the seat cushions."

The lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, has a plan (short-term borrowing linked to reform in the way the legislature budgets) but he's the lieutenant governor. Unless Paterson and the legislature decide they want to give him clout, he's got nothing.

Despite all these difficulties, Savino thinks a budget deal will get done fairly soon.

"A lot of the members are really starting to get frustrated," she said of her fellow legislators. "You're going to see some pressure on the leaders to just stop, sit down, and hammer it out."

Still, it's conceivable that this mess could continue, unresolved, until after the November election. At that point, if the millions of polls taken on the subject prove correct, Andrew Cuomo will be governor. He has given no indication of what he would do, or would like to see done right now.

In fact, Cuomo seems content to pretend he's just the attorney general for as long as he can get away with it. You can't blame him, but it's not helping.