Mixed view of Cuomo’s agenda

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has accomplished much and enjoyed amazing popularity since his easy election in 2010. He has gained support from those right of the political center for being pro-business and tough on taxes, schools and unions, and on the left for pushing through gay marriage and increasing the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

Also, people from across the spectrum like Gov. Cuomo’s insistence that New York be a national leader. So far, he has led the state government out of brokenness and shown it as a model of getting one’s act together.

In his State of the State speech Wednesday, he announced he is leading us down a new path, which he repeatedly described as “progressive.” Rhetorically, he seemed to be appealing to liberals, who have perhaps not found as much to love in this Democrat as moderates and Republicans have.

In that progressive agenda we especially liked his serious campaign finance reform plans (48-hour disclosure of contributions over $500, public financing of state elections and lower contribution limits), storm preparation improvements and lowered air pollution limits.

We also like that the governor said so much about improving the upstate economy; however, we’re mixed on his specific proposals to help that effort along.

Our biggest immediate takeaway from the speech was something that wasn’t there: Gov. Cuomo made no mention of the deep fiscal dilemmas being faced by New York’s counties, school districts and municipalities due to costly state mandates like Medicaid, employee pensions, teacher evaluations, etc. He also repeated a determination to allow no new taxes, which has been used in the past to stop counties like Essex from taking control of their financial crises. As new Assemblyman Dan Stec correctly pointed out, local governments, like the state, are now relying every year on one-shot deals to address systemic changes that will be around for much more than one year.

Thankfully, our state senator, Betty Little, is totally on the same page as us.

“My focus remains on mandate relief, in particular giving schools and local governments more flexibility in managing through their own financial challenges,” she wrote in her post-speech statement.

She also said she expects another austere state budget and a continuation of the bipartisan, constructive dialogue that has characterized the Capitol since Cuomo was elected – good things, both. But we hope the budget isn’t balanced on the shoulders of others who can’t bear it. Gov. Cuomo has been adept at pushing the state’s financial problems down to the local level and, with Hurricane Sandy relief, up to the federal level. He keeps insisting that local governments consolidate to save money, but that’s not really an option for counties.

Also regarding upstate, we like the governor’s idea to encourage regional, rather than local, tourism promotion with a $5 million competition among regions for the best tourism plan. This ties in with what Adirondackers are seeing now – that we need better, unified promotion of the Park as a whole. There’s no doubt in our minds: The Adirondacks needs to win this contest.

Meanwhile, the governor’s introduction of an Adirondack Challenge, a rafting and paddling competition with a special category for those on the government payroll, was funny with its goofy animation but almost completely devoid of meaningful details. Where and when would it be? How would you race rafts, exactly? Wouldn’t it be a liability, with so many amateurs, to have them rush rather than just try to stay in the boats?

As far as we can tell, this idea came as a surprise to everyone in the Adirondacks. One state politician told us he thought it was just a joke, but it’s suggested in all seriousness in the book that goes with Gov. Cuomo’s speech, and he did talk a lot about starting some kind of new event when he paid a surprise visit to our office on Dec. 28.

His staff still hasn’t responded to our requests for more information. Did he really think this one through? So far, it seems more like a gimmick than a real proposal, but we’ll see.

Gov. Cuomo’s bigger idea for the upstate economy is to allow more casinos, and he plans to offer that as a referendum in November. Yes, casinos would bring jobs and tax revenue, but also more addiction and crime. We already have Indian casinos and “racinos” (racetracks with gambling machines), and that’s probably enough. If people choose new casinos, New York could soon set out on the path Canadian provinces have followed, to their sorrow: video lottery terminals all over the place in restaurants, bars and convenience stores – and the same addicts wasting away their last dollars all day and night. No, thanks.

On education, we agree with the governor that more classroom time would be good; however, we’d like to be able to do so without raising expenses – and by extension, taxes. Everything in the governor’s education agenda would increase costs: teacher evaluations (the workload of which adds to school administrative needs), raising teacher standards and pay, and all-day pre-K.

On guns, the stricter laws Gov. Cuomo proposed would stand in the way of a growing hunger for military-style weaponry, which we agree would help make our culture less violent – although with so many guns already out there, it’s only a small step to inhibit future mass murderers.

It was his gun-control plans that turned his speech Wednesday into a national news event. Many people said he sounded like he was auditioning as a 2016 presidential candidate. We’re not sure about that, but we did notice one way he sounded – loud. He did a lot of shouting Wednesday. To some, it was probably rousing; to others (and we confess to being in this group), it was a little irritating.

Nevertheless, we expect Gov. Cuomo’s popularity will continue because we expect he will keep getting things done. He is a man of action and accomplishment, a true believer in the best of government, and the kind of guy whom most people feel is normal, not elite – even though he’s a career politician from a political family. He’s charismatic as well as effective, and for the most part, people just like him. As for us, we’d be thrilled to have him stop by our office again any old time; we’ll keep the coffee urn warm for him.