Andrew Cuomo had a lot to boast about one year into his term as governor, and boast he did in his State of the State address.
From one perspective, you could say it was a pep talk that New Yorkers really needed. He seems committed to turning things around and has already done much of it. Through hard work, he has convinced most people of his vision, sincerity and ability, and that's half the battle.
From another point of view, you could say he inflated this progress into something even more excellent than it was, got overexcited and used a bunch of the same cliches and overblown promises that governors before him have used on these occasions - George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, for instance. By the end, one might have felt bulldozed and a little skeptical.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Thankfully, while Gov. Cuomo's cheerleading may follow the state motto, "Excelsior," the reality of his governance seems pretty well grounded.
Here are some points of his speech with which we agree and some on which we're less sure:
Agree: Tourism is one of New York's strong economic bases and should be built upon, especially to keep our state ahead of its neighbors.
But: The only specific plans the governor mentioned were to increase visitation to New York City. We'll have to wait for his budget to see what he might do regarding the Adirondacks and the rest of upstate.
Agree: The state should invest in repairing roads and bridges that need it, like Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. This will be expensive, but we must maintain what we own, and the cost will only go up over time.
Agree: Connecting energy supplies upstate with energy demand downstate sounds good. Including the loan payment with monthly energy bills is a good idea.
But: Details were thin on how this would work.
Agree: Now would be a good time for the state to play a unifying role in upgrading the statewide emergency-response network.
But: This is tricky business, and the state must be careful to listen to ground-level workers in this field and not create problems. The way the Department of Environmental Conservation fumbled moving its dispatch center from Ray Brook to Albany is a cautionary tale. (To its credit, the DEC leaned from its mistake, and dispatchers are still on the job in Ray Brook.)
Agree: The state must focus on mandate relief for local governments.
But: Gov. Cuomo insisted the property tax levy cap has worked. That's kind of true, but things aren't that different yet and we haven't seen how it will play out for schools. It has put pressure on local governments to solve their own problems, which is good, but now that urgency shifts to the state to make its mandates fair. It will probably be necessary to shift some of these expenses - Medicaid, pensions and schools - from property taxes to state income taxes. That could be a budget buster in Albany, but income taxes are more fair than property taxes since they correspond with one's ability to pay.
Agree: Close income tax loopholes and make New York's tax code the fairest in the nation.
Agree: Reform the pension system with a new, less generous Tier VI. Future workers will get to decide if that's too measly; we predict few will turn down the job for that reason.
Agree: Stop New York City's practice of fingerprinting people for food stamps, a way to prevent fraud.
Disagree: Gov. Cuomo exaggerated the state's power by saying, "We will make sure no child goes to bed hungry in this state." Government can't ensure that. Granted, such false guarantees are common in politics, but if he really wants to transform New York's government into something sustainable, he should be more careful with such language.
Agree: "Let's pass campaign finance reform, and let's do it this year."
But: Gov. Cuomo didn't elaborate, but reportedly he is seeking voluntary public financing of political campaigns and a cut in the amount of top donations. That's a step in the right direction, and this may be an issue where small but frequent steps are needed. What more steps would be supported by this governor, who relies on private fundraising for his own campaigns?
Agree: Bipartisanship is great, and there was more of it in 2011 than Albany has seen in a long time. Coming so soon after the Senate coup and other ugly affairs, this new dynamic went beyond refreshing - it was thrilling.
Agree: "The best is yet to be." We're optimistic, too.
Disagree: "We are part of the best government historically in the nation. ... There is nothing that is stopping us!" Please.
Here's our token semantic quibble:
Agree: Yes, 2011 was a historic year for cooperation and achievement in state governing.
Disagree: It was not "an historic" year, as Gov. Cuomo said more than once. "H" is a consonant.
Gov. Cuomo was predominantly a realist and a technocrat in his first year, and even though he leaped into the emotional stratosphere a bit during Wednesday's address, his actual plans for his second seem to promise the same kind of pragmatism. He is a sharp politician but also a skilled government mechanic, and between those two, he knows how to make things happen.