Cuomo's Got Good Ideas But Changing Albany Will Take More

Cuomo's platform is a remarkable document, laying out specific reform

It’s 224 pages long and crammed with details about what Andrew Cuomo says he would do if he’s elected Governor.

The Cuomo platform called "The New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action" has not received a lot of attention in the last few days. But it’s worth reading because it’s full of provocative ideas for changing the way New York State is governed.

These include: immediately imposing a cap on state spending and freezing salaries of state employees, as part of a one-year emergency plan, pledging no increases in personal or corporate income taxes or sales taxes and putting a lid on local property taxes.

But among the most intriguing suggestions in the Cuomo manifesto is to do something that hasn’t been done since 1927, when Governor Al Smith completely overhauled state government.

"I want," says Cuomo, "to reorganize the state’s 1,000 agencies, authorities and commissions with a mandate of at least a 20 percent reduction and re-invent our government for a new century."

Cuomo, the attorney general in a Democratic administration, wants, too, to consolidate the 10,000 local governments in the state [towns, villages and special districts]. He says these entities, through duplication and waste, "drive our home property taxes through the roof."

Whether or not you are voting for Cuomo, the issues raised here are worth considering by both major parties and all candidates for office in the coming election. Is it time to have a total overhaul of government? If we don’t do that, are we in danger of being suffocated by bureaucracy and accumulating debt?

Another proposal in the platform is for establishing an independent redistricting commission to re-draw the legislative districts after the 2010 census. This could radically transform the Legislature by basing it on population equality and factors like compactness, minority representation, preservation of communities of interest.

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, which has pushed for such reforms over the years, told me he thought the platform contained a blueprint for "reforming a dysfunctional government."

Dadey particularly likes the idea of an independent re-districting commission. Taking re-districting away from the Legislature could be a real " game changer," Dadey said. Cuomo wants candidates to sign a pledge to support these fundamental reforms.

Although many prominent Democrats have endorsed the Cuomo initiative, a Republican contender for Governor, Rick Lazio, said that Andrew Cuomo "bears responsibility for the worst four years in the history of New York government. Why should we give him another four?"

Another GOP contender, Steve Levy, challenges Cuomo: "What have you ever done in your background that shows you’re a fiscal manager that can save this state from fiscal insolvency?"

Nonetheless, the plan Cuomo presented, wrapped in a red, white and blue cover, is probably the most comprehensive blueprint to change state government since Al Smith, New York’s legendary governor in the 1920s, commissioned Robert Moses to draw up a plan for change.

That 419-page report urged consolidation of 187 agencies into 16 departments and other reforms. It wasn’t adopted but Moses became part of Smith’s inner circle and ultimately established himself as the greatest builder of parks, beaches, playgrounds, bridges and highways in New York’s history.

Even if Cuomo wins election by an overwhelming margin, it will be a hard plan to implement. It’s all more easily said than done. And, in an Albany torn by partisan wrangling and corruption, it will be hard for any governor to enact legislation in the years to come. Especially if such laws threaten the power of some legislators.

Fundamental, radical change will depend on the leadership skills of Cuomo or whoever becomes governor. And such skills can’t be legislated or written in a platform.

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