When Democrat Andrew Cuomo, 60, became governor in 2011, he took over a government so reliably and overwhelmingly dysfunctional that the idea of a competent Albany was a punch line. Budgets were never on time. The unemployment rate was 9 percent. The state’s projected budget deficit was $10 billion. Two previous governors, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, left office amid scandal and incompetence.
When Cuomo was sworn in, the state’s governance was such a disaster that it’s easy to forget how impossible improvement once seemed.
In the nearly eight years since, Cuomo has shepherded every budget to passage on time or very close to it, and never passed a significant tax increase. State income tax rates declined a bit. State spending increased by less than 2 percent a year for his first six budgets, though that’s ticked up in the past two. A new, less expensive pension tier for public employees hired as of 2012 began to bend that cost curve. And Cuomo spearheaded a property-tax cap that altered the state’s trajectory. That affected the economics in NYC because as so many of our employees come from suburbs with high school taxes.
Each of these economic triumphs came with the enthusiastic help of majority Senate Republicans, who shared many of Cuomo’s fiscal priorities, and some badgering and horse-trading with the Democrats in the majority in the Assembly. The opposite formula was needed for Cuomo to be successful with social initiatives, like same-sex marriage, gun restrictions, a higher minimum wage and blockage of hydrofracking.
And while many of these big policy changes were adopted in Cuomo’s first four years, he’s had similar success in his second term pushing through seemingly impossible infrastructure projects. The rebuilding of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, the completion of the Second Avenue subway and the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Much of Cuomo’s success has come from an ability to intertwine items for opposing sides that incentivizes compromise, and an aggressively hectoring style that incentivizes surrender. It’s not at all pretty, but it works pretty well.
Marc Molinaro, 43, of Tivoli, is Cuomo’s Republican opponent. A public servant since he first ran for the village board at age 18, Molinaro has been a mayor, county legislator, assemblyman and, since 2012, the Dutchess County executive. Molinaro says he’s running because the state has become too expensive, with the highest property tax burden in the nation, eroding infrastructure and a government that refuses to focus on the challenges. The cornerstone of Molinaro’s campaign is a plan to cut local property taxes by 30 percent. It’s a noble goal, but his ideas for implementation fall into two categories: old specific ones that have been rejected for years, like eliminating laws and prevailing wage rules that increase government construction costs, and perennially vague ideas that get nowhere once details are needed, like eliminating “unfunded mandates” put on school districts and locales by federal and state governments.
Molinaro is low key and has on-the-ground political savvy. He’s not wrong to target New York’s bloated Medicaid spending and antiquated laws. His MTA restructuring plan is thoughtful, even though it very closely adheres to the one NYC Transit chief Andy Byford already proposed.
Third terms often are more curse than blessing. Cuomo must allow far more oversight of economic development to make sure state money spent on job creation delivers. No laws will stop greedy people from taking advantage of public positions, as shown by the federal corruption convictions of a very close aide as well as three people involved in upstate economic development programs. But ethics reforms, such as lowering the limits on political contributions from individuals and corporations, could minimize the temptations.
For MTA, the next several years will be critical to get the subways back on track — and to find significant funding. That should include a plan to toll Manhattan’s roadways and put the money toward the MTA. New York needs Cuomo to shepherd those efforts.
If he continues his focus on moving the state forward, Cuomo may have new partners who will allow him to win on some fronts, but he must stop those looking to roll back some of his economic gains. If Democrats take the State Senate, worthy initiatives could move, such as preventing the purchase or possession of guns by troubled individuals; raising the age for purchasing guns to 21; protecting against the federal legislation that capped state and local tax deductions; passing the Child Victims Act, allowing those who were sexually abused as minors to file lawsuits; and approving ethics and voting reforms.
What Cuomo needs to do is keep a lid on more extreme legislative dreams like ending or loosening the property tax cap, raising state taxes, or the costs of education and health care, and rushing to legalize recreational marijuana without careful thought.
New York needs a governor who can temper idealism with common sense, who can run the state competently while pushing for huge change when the time is right. Andrew Cuomo has done both for eight years.
amNewYork endorses Cuomo.