Governor Andrew Cuomo didn’t disappoint his admirers. For a freshman governor, his first state of the state speech was a gem. He was tough, engaging and, at times, funny. It was quite a performance.
He spoke of turning “crisis into opportunity.”
“We must,” he declared, ”transform the state of New York from a government of dysfunction, gridlock and corruption to a government of performance, integrity and pride.”
Of course, it’s only a beginning ---but it appears he held the attention of his audience, the legislators who will have to enact his proposals, and they applauded him warmly and, at the end, enthusiastically. If first impressions count, he scored. But the legislative process is long and convoluted and his agenda doesn’t necessarily match the agendas of some of the senators and assemblymen whose support he needs.
He advocated local programs that would compete with each other for a share of state job money. He called for schools to compete for half a billion dollars in funds. He proposed to freeze the salaries of most state employees. He said that government had to be shrunk, saying that agencies had to be merged and fewer workers employed. He is appointing a commission to come up with a plan to consolidate and reduce the number of agencies, authorities and commissions by 20 percent. He promised to reduce spending.
There were innovations in the program. Both Assembly Speaker Shelley Silver, Albany’s leading Democratic legislator, and Dean Skelos, the Republican leader of the Senate, were invited to speak. Perhaps it was Cuomo’s artful way of smoking them out for future negotiations on specific issues. Said Silver: “We can work together. We will work together.” And he promised to support the new governor in his promise to cut property taxes.
Skelos agreed that property taxes had to be capped and urged savings in Medicaid and renewed efforts at job creation.
The new governor seemed to be laying out a centrist agenda in hope of gaining Republican support for his plans. But he courted liberal Democrats by supporting same sex marriage and expanding state protection for women who want abortions.
One innovation in Cuomo’s address: On large screens illustrations were projected demonstrating Cuomo’s plans. At one point, the audience saw the major leaders as the skippers of three different battleships----and projectiles rained out of the sky. Most struck Cuomo’s ship---illustrating how he expects abuse from critics. It got a big laugh.
At the end of his speech Cuomo’s voice reached a crescendo---as he urged: “We need radical reform, we need a new approach, we need a new perspective and we need it now.” He was cheered.
I spoke to Blair Horner of the state reform group, NYPIRG. He said: “I’ve seen 27 state of the state messages. Most of them were forgettable. This one was not. By talking about corruption and greed he was hitting one of the most difficult issues head-on.
“He was straightforward and framed his ideas well. But, of course, the rhetoric is easier than the actions he must take.
In the last analysis, Cuomo has a heavy burden. The major items that have to be cut in his budget are education and health care. The deficit is 10 billion dollars and there are bound to be many unhappy people at the end of the budget process.