My first guest column, “Reforming New York’s Dysfunctional State Government” was published in the Herald back in August of 2010. It addressed political and operational irresponsibility evident in Albany and noted that if not corrected, it could lead to a new phase of fiscal instability beyond anyone’s imagination.
Progress is in the eye of the beholder. The New York Times just published a 10 page assessment (1) of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s performance, citing a “run of victories” including reforming New York’s political process, the approval of a budget that cut spending, overhauls tax rates and legalizing same-sex marriage. The Economist Magazine (2) further sanctified his accomplishments, mentioning “nudging the public-sector unions to make concessions worth $450 million.”
On the legislative level, Sen. Majority leader Dean Skelos noted that under GOP control, “government is working” and you “don’t see in Albany anymore the dysfunction that existed in the past…. we have turned the corner in Albany……Dysfunction has gone out the window.” Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said, “When you’ve brought competence and accountability back to state government, and your priorities are the peoples’ priorities, the politics takes care of itself.” I suggest we examine theses assessments and exaltations in more detail.
I’m not at all sure how the Times’ reached the conclusion that our state’s political process has been reformed. Their own editorial columns published over the past few weeks cited numerous examples of eleventh-hour agreements reached by three men in a room, behind closed doors.
The Times’ was also overly generous in classifying cuts in spending a “victory.” The agreed upon budget actually adds about $100 million in spending with little accomplished to stop or modify the funding of antiquated, duplicative, unnecessary and ineffective agencies and authorities.(3) An interesting sidebar. Senate Republican we’re pleased with the minute difference since it didn’t raise taxes. The Assembly Democrats were happy that it increased state financing for community colleges and housing programs.
The Times’ endorsement of the reform of the tax code is also surprising. Why? A column “Behind Rapid Deal on Taxes, Stealth Maneuvering by Cuomo” published last December cited the passage of the tax revisions occurring “without a single public hearing with information tightly controlled and negotiations limited to a few people.” Will the rich really pay more? Will the so-called “middle class” benefit? Hard to tell at this juncture….the actual legislation, at 33 pages and 19,000 words posted online 26 minutes before the voting started.
Two prior columns “Cuomo mandates reform of $140 billion state pension system” and “Pension reform: go away and come back another day” reveal that the state’s real concerns evident have hardly been addressed. Public-sector unions still maintain a powerful influence on New York State politics and changes to limit the number of sick and leave days that can pad pensions from 200 to 100, as an example, will hardly save Nassau County $100 million over five years. (4)
Now you know the rest of the story. Your comments appreciated.
(1)April 4th Times Topic – Selected by editors of the NY Times
(2)The Economist Jan 28th – Andrew Cuomo – Next, walk on water
(3) Executive Order #4 signed into law January 5, 2011
(4) Gov. Cuomo March 16, 2012 press release ‘Pension Reform Will Save State and Local Governments $80 billion over 30 years.”