On Feb.1, I had the opportunity visit Molloy College and listen to the Governor’s presentation explaining his current executive budget and reform plan. Its formal title “Building a New New York …..With You.”
Attendees received an information card that set the theme for the meeting. “Thanks to the tough choices we made last year and the historic reforms and bipartisan cooperation we achieved, we are able to propose a pro-growth budget…..with no new taxes, fees or borrowing. Our budget plan will also reduce the cost of government, implement accountability in our schools to put students first, and create tens of thousands of jobs through billions of dollars in private sector investment in our economy.”
The meeting started with introductory statements by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Assemblyman Charles Lavine. No limit to the accolades, Gov. Andrew Cuomo “the man who turned New York State around,” next took the stage to a roaring ovation.
Over the years we have all been exposed to “state of something” addresses. What made this one different is that the governor, who is a very dynamic speaker, easily convinced his audience that what he has in mind is not only extremely necessary— it’s doable.
Three subjects illustrate that point well. The governor said the need to reform the way our “education system” operates is a top priority. Why? There is no one (out there) lobbying for the needs of our students. The “business” of education has to be transformed into one of performance; and, all aspects of the “Race to the Top” agenda must be implemented (this year) without exception.
He also mentioned (which in a perfect world he would not support it) the need for a state constitutional amendment to approve casino gaming. Why? New York State is losing tax revenues, tourism and jobs to other states. He estimates that $1 billion in economic activity could be generated from gaming. This suggestion brought down the house. Everyone wants to turn in their bingo cards.
Last but not least, the governor wants to build the largest convention center in the nation at the Aqueduct Race Track and a new “Jacob Javits” center on the West Side. Both projects would be privately financed.
I left this meeting with mixed feelings. In the course of his presentation Cuomo mentioned that “last year we were hurting” beset with scandals, ineffective government, the largest deficit in history, a loss of trust and a performance deficit as well.” I have difficulty in accepting the premise that all of these concerns have been put to rest. On the other hand, Cuomo is an imposing leader who may well pull off everything he has in mind for the public good. Only time will tell.
I was able to turn over to the governors’ staff an envelope containing two questions I would have asked and, a copy of my most recent column “Have we seen this movie before?” Will he respond? Stay tuned.