Give Governor Cuomo credit: He managed to get a tax-reform package, which included higher rates on top earners, through the Legislature in record time and with barely a dissenting voice, even from the Republican-controlled Senate.
From a cold, clinical perspective, the governor’s performance was a tour de force. There was no hint that he was planning a change in the tax code. There were no leaks, no trial balloons, no whispered hints to favored reporters. Of course, that’s another way of saying there was no real public debate or discussion of the governor’s proposal, which there wasn’t. But then again, those who bemoan government paralysis and gridlock, as this page has done, have to acknowledge that the governor achieved his goal with swift, decisive action, in collaboration with legislative leaders from both parties.
So as he closes his first year in office, Mr. Cuomo can look back at some remarkable achievements. He cut money-saving deals with the state’s top public employees unions with a minimum of public posturing. And now he has a tax deal which, he believes, will help the state bridge next year’s projected budget deficit.
Now comes the hard work.
State government remains inefficient and wasteful. Albany continues to seem unaccountable and out of touch. Mr. Cuomo pointedly noted that he and his partners in the Legislature achieved what national leaders in Washington seemingly cannot—a bipartisan, cooperative agreement on revenue. That’s fine, but the real issue is whether he and legislative leaders can figure out how to streamline state government so that New York is not burdened with what seems like a perpetual fiscal crisis. Now that he has dealt with the unions and with taxes, Mr. Cuomo has to make good on his explicit promise to follow in the footsteps of the legendary four-term governor, Al Smith, whose greatest legacy may be the top-to-bottom administrative reforms he implemented in the 1920s. Smith consolidated the executive functions of his office and brought in experts to make service delivery more efficient—regardless of politics. In that way, he believed, the state could best help those who needed help.
The taxpayers of the State of New York desperately need that sort of reform. The governor should initiate a line-item examination of the services the state provides, and how they are provided. He has to purge the budget of pork designed for the express purpose of re-electing incumbent legislators. The executive branch needs consolidation, just as it did in Smith’s day, to rid the statehouse of unnecessary or redundant offices and programs.
Achieving this kind of reform will not be easy, not when every member of the Legislature is up for re-election next year. But if Mr. Cuomo is intent on achieving long-term reform—and the national acclaim that it surely would inspire—he has no choice. And he needs to start now.