03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Going Broke in Albany, Part 2: Where's a Press-Induced Panic When We Need One?

Here's Part 2 of my 3 Part Series on the NY State Budget Deficit. Part 1, which you can read here, was an explanation of the crisis and description of the State Senate's unfortunate and dangerous control of the cuts. 

Here's a first: Our local papers aren't being sensational enough.

There's a good chance we're on the verge of entering a new financial era in New York State. An era that will be defined by the cutting, gutting, and slashing of our social services. An era that will offer us wayward emergency financial legislation and confused spur-of-the-moment cutting. Maybe worst of all, it will be an era that we will have had the chance to prevent. 

Yes, I welcome our news-media to interrupt our collective inertia about this budget-mess with some old-fashioned hyperbolic fear-mongering. This time, it would actually be useful. Maybe press-induced state-wide panic would provide an alarmed, collective voice to communicate the dire need for action from our representation, maybe it could provide some impetus for them to approve the cuts.

There are so many episodes in recent history in which panic did us no good, in which it had no positive legislative outcome; found no useful conclusion. For example, I remember during their irresponsible and sensational swine flu coverage last year, the New York Times provided an interactive map of where the flu was spreading, what the death count was, and where it was likely to spread. Each state had a category of "potential cases," which was inordinately large, and mostly fictitious once the tests came back. Well, where's their comprehensive guide to our budget, a map of how our budget money is distributed so we can understand it better? 

That's just wishful thinking, I guess. Sadly, the Times didn't write a single article about the budget deficit from November 17 to 25.

And it's not that there wasn't plenty to report on. Paterson's media blitz, his threat of declaring unilateral power over the other two houses, a strange friendship between the Senate Dems and Repubs, three-way deals, two-way deals: all of these items were substantiive enough to become real stories.

It's just that the budget mess is, well, messy. It's complex, sticky, and therefore doesn't garner enough attention from their readers. The Times' most successful local stories are colorful neighborhood tales, condemnations of fraud and corruption. It's hard to pin-point heroes and villains in this budget crisis: we're dealing with unsavory, self-serving Albany politicians across the board. 

That brings us to the other end of the spectrum: how unpleasant it is to analyze the special interests in this story. The lobbyists providing opposition to these cuts aren't the usual big-tobacco, pro-gun lobbyists we hear about in Washington. They're our teachers and Medicaid advocates. The Daily News wrote a piece condemning Senate Finance Chair Carl Kruger's lobby contributions, but provided extraneous information about landlord contribution from previous years, and funding from gambling lobbyists.

As difficult as it is to admit it, the teachers' union and healthcare lobbyists are playing politics too, trying to minimize the damage on their end. They aren't the usual big tobacco and vice lobbyists in Washington that we love to hate. No, these lobbyists should be on our side. Well, I say they too should be called out for their irresponsible shortsightedness. They too know that if a budget proposal isn't passed soon, the state will likely not be able to pay 1.6 billion dollars of state aid to schools due in December. To give you some perspective, Paterson is now proposing less than 300 million dollars of education cuts. They're lobbyists though, they have to lessen their cuts and hope that they fall in other departments. Ultimately, the long-term reality isn't as visceral and frightening as the short-term cuts, and these unions are probably as confused and afraid to disappoint their support as the State Senate is.

It's time for us to start making this front page news. The existence of our social services is being threatened by cheap politicking and systemic ineptitude. It's time for our papers to be brave when they discus our budget, and for them to lay blame in the right quarters. The severity of the budget-crisis shouldn't be up for debate anymore: for once, we'd be healthy to panic. 

Up next: Part 3 - The Outcome.