| 16 Feb 2015 | 11:53

    There is now officially hell to pay among the state's agencies and not-for-profit community. Anyone with even tangential knowledge of, or influence on, the New York political system is hearing phones ringing off the hook, and for good reason. Facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit for both this year and next, Gov. David Paterson has pursued a Sherman-like approach to slashing and burning everything. I run a network of public radio stations, and our funding from the state has been cut by 50 percent, with hints of even more to come. I spoke to my cousin, Lois Carswell who, among her other good works, founded the Association of Living Museums. She told me that state aid for all her members, including all the zoos in the state, had been completely erased from the budget. "That's nine million dollars," she said. "Someone is going to have to feed the penguins." She has a pretty good point. Paterson has made it clear that this has to be done. He submitted his budget as early as anyone can remember and challenged the Legislature to do with it what it wanted, so long as the bottom line is met. In other words, priorities may be changed, but money must be saved. His point: unlike the budget of the United States government, the New York State budget must be balanced. The Fed can just print as much money as it wants but the states have to pay for what they spend. So far, the people of New York have understood Paterson's message and given him high approval ratings. Yet he knows trouble is coming. Soon there will be TV ads showing crying baby seals in our zoos, while a somber voice asks why no one is feeding them. Friends of the state university where I taught for many years will suggest that the university is being raped, and they will be right. Paterson is calling for a huge tuition increase and wants to keep 90 percent of it to balance the budget while piling cut after cut onto state university campuses. Of course, this means that the Legislature is now becoming the battleground. Among ideas rejected by the governor so far is a millionaire's tax or even an Obama-like tax on those who make more than $250,000 a year. Not surprisingly, this idea has huge support among the state's voters but has been rejected by the governor who seems to believe that it will drive the rich out of New York. If they are not here, the reasoning goes, you can't tax them. Needless to say, there are no easy answers. So guess which group is happy about the situation and laughing all the way to the bank? Lobbyists, that's who. I have been saying for a while that what we have here is a "Full Employment for Lobbyists Act." New York City public radio station WNYC got itself a big-shot lobbyist, and now there is a fascinating line in this year's budget suggesting that the state education commissioner can change the old formula to assure an "equitable distribution" of state funds for public broadcasting. No one knows how it got there, but it does potentially pit WNYC against the powerful public television station, WNET in New York, which has always had the best lobbyists money can buy and garnered the lion's share of the available public broadcasting money. In the meantime, the students of the state university are suffering, and the penguins in the zoos are hungry. You had better believe that there will be politicians and lobbyists quietly chortling. -- Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.