Because it’s only January, Andrew Cuomo could enjoy, while writing his State of the State message, the luxury of ignoring the fact that it’s an election year. As we move closer to November, however, the ambitious agenda he proposed in yesterday’s State of the State will begin to come up against political realities. The major political issue facing the Legislature is redistricting, the outcome of which will determine whether the Republican Party retains its majority in the State Senate. If the Senate Republicans feel their toehold on political relevance is threatened, their willingness to go along with the governor’s program will diminish; yet who can blame the Democrats for wanting to draw district lines that would give them control over both Legislative bodies?
For the most part the Republicans should be happy with the Governor’s agenda. He says he will balance the budget without increasing taxes or imposing new fees; he wants to reduce the state’s pension obligations by creating a Tier 6 for future state employees; he wants to do something about the unfunded mandates that are crushing localities; he wants to put money into the state’s transportation infrastructure, which is particularly important to the business community; and he wants to make New York more competitive to boost job growth.
In fact, Cuomo may have more trouble with the Assembly than the Senate over such questions as imposing teacher evaluations on public schools, amending the Constitution to allow casino gambling and Tier 6. Knowing that his agenda is to the Assembly’s right, he threw the Assembly several bones in his State of the State, including foreclosure relief, protection for renters and doubling the goal of state contracts awarded to women and minority contractors.
Some commentators see Cuomo positioning himself for a future bid for the Presidency. He certainly infused his speech with campaign-style rhetoric, claiming he and the Legislature restored New York’s reputation as “the progressive capital of the nation.” 2011 did represent a change in direction for New York, but it was one that was forced on the state, not one the Legislature in particular wanted to embrace.
As the nation’s economy continues to teeter on the edge of another recession, depending in large part on what happens in Europe, New York again has little choice in continuing on the path of reducing the cost of government without undercutting essential governmental programs or raising taxes. To that end the governor is placing a huge bet on the idea of public-private partnerships–the idea that public investment can leverage private capital. The billion dollar leveraging projects he announced Wednesday include building the country’s largest convention center on the site of the Aqueduct Race Track, the rehabilitation of the Javits Center into a Battery-Park style complex, transportation infrastructure upgrades, an energy highway and $1 billion to help Buffalo reduce its 28% poverty rate.
Whether these public-private partnerships succeed in leveraging the kind of private investment Cuomo envisions only time will tell, but the concept is worth trying. It’s certainly an approach that makes much more sense than the Obama administration’s approach to economic development of investing public funds in companies (like Solyndra) that it wants to succeed in the market place.