EDITORIAL: The governor says what he means

HARD TO SAY whether Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address this week set a record for the number of initiatives introduced, reintroduced or repackaged with better graphics. Maybe some insomniac measures such things. It was the first state of the state address I recall that included animation for comic relief and a commercial for one of the proposals.

The governor admitted his speech, delivered January 9, describes an ambitious agenda of economic development, education reform, social change and regulation, including restrictions on assault weapons, to name only a few of the high points. In case you missed the speech, it’s available in what he described as a “300-page book.”

No one should underestimate the ability of this governor to get what he wants. Only a few years ago New York State had what experts called the most dysfunctional state government in the nation. Compare that to what happened this week, when the newly elected legislature enacted and Mr. Cuomo signed the toughest firearms regulations in the United States. The NY SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act) covers a range of issues from lowering the number of rounds in ammunition magazines to background checks and measures meant to restrict dangerously ill people from obtaining firearms.

A little over a month ago most of these proposals would have disappeared into legislative committee limbo or at best become doomed one-house bills. Now they’re law.

Not everyone has lined up behind the governor. Kathy Marchione (R), the newly sworn-in state senator for the 43rd District, which includes all of this county, voted against the NY SAFE Act and has a petition on her website calling for its repeal. She says thousands have already signed it. Court challenges are sure to follow. But Mr. Cuomo doesn’t sound like a worried man.
Early in his hour-and-a-half speech last week he spoke at some length about the need to concentrate on economic development “Upstate.” That’s a big area to lump together, and what this county has in common with Buffalo and Syracuse isn’t immediately clear. But anybody who lives here knows we aren’t experiencing the double-digit economic growth seen in the New York metropolitan region, and when he said Upstate needs more investment, who here would argue.
One of his plans is to have state government help market Upstate products. The products he mentioned by name were “wine, beer and yogurt.” We have wineries here, vineyards and brewers — distilleries, too, though he neglected to mention them. We don’t have any of the mega-plants making big-name brands of Greek style yogurt, but that could change.
He also proposed “duty-free stores” and business incubators, where a few chosen entrepreneurs would pay no taxes, receive considerable practical support from state government, with more of these projects rolled out soon… “nationwide.” Ooops. He meant to say “statewide” and corrected himself, but not before the audience could be heard laughing at the not-so-surprising slip.
The incubators’ tax-free businesses, as Mr. Cuomo briefly described them, called to mind  a similarly well-intentioned proposal introduced decades ago called Empire Zones. That program ended as more of a boondoggle than a vehicle for economic development. Let’s hope the policy wonks who wrote this plan learned from the mistakes of the past.
Governor Cuomo proposes to do so much more–like pay school districts to increase the length of the school day or year or both; invest in more public housing; build new infrastructure–all with “no new taxes.” As a taxpayer and a citizen I want him to do these things. And history teaches that politicians who don’t embrace big ideas and promote them energetically court that worst of all political fates: obscurity.
I support the governor’s agenda and wish him success, but listening to last week’s address felt at times like sitting in the class of a teacher giving a lecture with too much information to absorb all at once. I missed the thread that ties the pieces together into a cohesive program.
This problem is more mine than the governor’s. Years of exposure to New York State government  have trained me to expect dysfunction as the norm. Now, for the moment, anyway, it looks like it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s hard to adjust to political competence coupled with a humane and optimistic vision of the future. These things don’t last very long. Enjoy them while they’re here.

Comments are closed.