Analysis: Looking for a Miracle in Albany

Cuomo has laid out a tough agenda in his budget plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a big fan in former Mayor Edward Koch.

“I think,” Koch told me, “he’s a miracle worker. He’s taken on some of our toughest problems and he doesn’t shrink from the challenges of the job.”

Many years ago, the new governor’s father, Mario, and Koch were bitter political enemies. So perhaps that makes Ed Koch’s ringing endorsement more impressive.

It seems clear that Andrew Cuomo, in his budget message, has laid out a tough agenda. And the problems he seeks to solve are not simple.

Saving money is at the heart of Cuomo’s proposed $132 billion budget. First, he seeks to ensure that the state does not lose $700 million in federal education funds. Second, he has proposed a bold initiative to reduce pension costs.

He warned school districts that did not adopt a teacher evaluation system that they would lose an increase in state aid. And he proposed reducing pension benefits for new government workers or giving them a defined contribution plan.

The governor’s initiatives were hailed by some editorial writers. The Daily News wrote: “Governor Cuomo is taming the Albany beast.”

The editorial said that Cuomo was ready now to “go toe to toe with public employee unions…by demanding a tougher system for identifying and getting rid of poor-performing teachers.”

Much of the proposed teacher evaluation system would rest on student test scores. And that approach may be faulty, since it’s been demonstrated that the testing system may itself have serious flaws. But the governor deserves praise for at least having the political courage to take on this issue.

The pension burden on the taxpayers is staggering. It is billions of dollars now -- and it grows at a tremendous rate every year.

Most New York voters don’t have similar pension benefits, so the governor should have strong support from the public -- but likely fierce oppositions from the unions -- in trying to reform the system. It doesn’t seem fair to have a special class of civil servants.

I asked Dick Dadey of Citizens Union what he thought of the governor’s program. “It is,” he said, “a challenge to take on two huge problems at once, trying to streamline government and sensitize school districts. It’s interesting for a change to see a Democratic governor dealing with the need for stringent economies.”

A couple of years ago, it looked as though even the slightest achievement by the governor or lawmakers could be considered a miracle. There’s no doubt about it -- the world of Albany has changed. But, whether or not miracles are in the offing, remains to be seen.

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