Wine, Roses and False Promises: Can Cuomo Avoid Economic Catastrophe?

As Andrew Cuomo delivered his somber inaugural address on New Year’s Day, some political observers with keen ears detected the cadence and rhythm of his father, Mario Cuomo, who soared to national prominence on the strength of his speechmaking and gift for language. Others heard in the younger Mr. Cuomo’s dropped r’s the well-practiced sounds of working-class Queens, a place the new governor left a long time ago.

But those who actually listened to the speech—who didn’t simply hear it—found in his words an echo of Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo’s predecessor. Thirty-five years ago, Mr. Carey delivered one of the most remembered lines in recent state political history as he told New Yorkers in his inaugural address that “the days of wine and roses are over.” State authorities soon buckled under the weight of their debt, and New York City nearly went bankrupt. Mr. Carey helped right the ship, and passed on to the elder Mr. Cuomo a state that was in far better shape than it was on Day 1 of the Carey years.

New York has elected four governors since Mr. Carey left office. Each of them has had to face a wine-and-roses moment, and each of them has promised to make the tough choices necessary for New York to prosper and grow. Andrew Cuomo is only the latest to tell New Yorkers that state government must become leaner and smarter.

How has it worked out? Not particularly well. The state budget has continued to grow faster than the rate of inflation. The cost of gold-plated pension benefits for state workers is paralyzing the budget process. The private sector continues to find New York a hostile (though, in many cases, necessary) place to do business. Genuine political leadership remains impossible to find.

Andrew Cuomo surely was sincere when he talked about the plight of those who are suffering because of the state’s hard times. The question is whether he has the right stuff to implement the reforms and painful cuts necessary to avoid economic catastrophe.

Mr. Cuomo has been around Albany since the early 1980s. He has heard other voices promising to bring change. And he has witnessed the cowardly unwillingness of Albany to act on those fine-sounding promises. Now, however, the days of whine and poses are over. Decisions need to be made, and Andrew Cuomo had better make them.