Ethics Reform, Now

Andrew Cuomo’s first year as governor was, without question, a personal and political triumph. With none of the bluster and bravado of his colleague on the west side of the Hudson River, Mr. Cuomo worked out taxpayer-friendly deals with the state’s public employee unions and won bipartisan support for a tax-reform package. This page was critical of the governor’s tax hike on high earners, but there is no denying Mr. Cuomo’s achievement in winning support for the measure from both parties. At a time of intense partisan combat in Washington and in other state capitals, Mr. Cuomo’s effective leadership sets him apart from the shouters and the panderers.

It would be wonderful if the governor and his colleagues could sit back now and savor the achievements of last year as they prepare for this year’s legislative elections. The state’s problems, however, are such that last year’s victories may well be forgotten come springtime. Another yawning budget gap must be bridged, more painful decisions are inevitable, and the spirit of bipartisan problem-solving no doubt will be tested again and again in 2012.

As of this writing, Albany was preparing for Mr. Cuomo’s second State of the State address, scheduled for Jan. 4. There was, for once, a sense of optimism surrounding Mr. Cuomo’s appearance, with good reason. For the first time in years, Albany had reason to believe that positive, bipartisan change is not only possible, but achievable.

With that in mind, New Yorkers can hold out hope that Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders will seize the moment to create an Albany Spring of sorts by pushing for continued ethics reform, greater transparency in the state budget process, and a fair redrawing of the state’s congressional and legislative districts.

Despite last year’s achievements in Albany, voters rightly remain skeptical of the capital’s commitment to greater political and fiscal reforms—simply because past governors and legislatures have talked about changing the capital’s culture but rarely followed up with actions.

Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature did pass a decent ethics reform bill last year, but the public has good reason to wonder if Albany’s culture of corruption remains intact. The concern goes beyond the gross sort of graft practiced by former State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, who recently admitted to taking bribes from a lobbyist. Just as insidious are the private deals, the lack of accountability, the power of lobbyists, and the dishonest budgetary gimmicks that have stained Albany’s reputation in the past.

To truly change the way Albany does business, Mr. Cuomo and his colleagues have much more work ahead of them. They can’t begin soon enough.