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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Hal Peterson > Blogs
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Guest column

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the song “Happy days are here again!” in his successful presidential campaign. The lyrics evoke both the optimism and buoyancy that was badly needed during the Depression years to restore confidence in government planning and policy.

In a press release issued on June 24, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also accentuated the positive, announcing “progress on historic initiatives, action on issues that have been left unresolved for decades, and a legislative session that has delivered results.” He also applauded both house leaders and members of the Legislature for passing these unprecedented reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, for his part, said he was also “extremely proud of the many accomplishments the past several weeks have brought” and cited the passage of measures that will “create jobs, bring needed tax relief to homeowners and businesses, reduce the regulatory burden facing local governments, enable our state universities to grow and our students excel, and improve the process for creating more clean, reliable and affordable energy.”

Last, but certainly not least, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stated: “This has been a singularly productive session for the people of New York. On major issues which in the past have been stalled, we have settled our differences without compromising principles.”

I’m not quite sure we should all be enamored of what we are reading, or observing and, indeed, the bloom may already be starting to come off the rose.

Cuomo, in a New York Times column published on July 14, said he was “heartened by the accomplishments of his first six months — particularly the passage of a property-tax cap and the legalization of same-sex marriage — in a state capital divided by party and infamous for corruption and dysfunction.” But he attributed his legislative success to “a set of reasons that I don’t know are necessarily replicable.” He also highlighted …   More

Guest Column

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “We made a difference.”

That quote appeared in a June 27 Newsday story explaining how Andrew, Dean (Skelos) and Sheldon (Silver) fared in the tumultuous legislative session that came to a close last week. The paper’s overall assessment is positive, with the New York Post also crediting the governor with “political skills, the likes of which [haven’t] been seen in the Capital for 50 years.”

On the assumption of truly achievable results, the accolades being expressed are warranted, at least for the time being. But I tend to be a bit more pragmatic in assessing performance. Cuomo did indeed push through a reduced spending budget without new taxes and also a game-changing property tax cap, the ramifications of which have yet to be realized. He accomplished (for the most part) what he promised to do when he ran for elected office, like it or not.

Despite those achievements, we are still light years away from actually realizing real reform. A number of examples come to mind. I mentioned in my column, “Stop the shenanigans,” (June 23-29) that the governor’s approach to pension reform avoids dealing with many of the well-publicized absurdities in the current system. A recent New York Times editorial disagrees with my assessment, suggesting that Cuomo’s approach, while more conciliatory than that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is as effective. I suggest Cuomo should examine the legislation just approved by the New Jersey Assembly. This law specifies adjustments that might just save $132 billion in labor costs over the next 30 years. Of particular note, if approved, these changes will affect more than 500,000 New Jersey state, county, town and school district employees, imposing mandatory pension and benefit funding requirements.

With state spending in mind, I also question whether the governor’s Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission will ever accomplish anything productive. Why? It appears to be …   More

Guest Column

In the course of producing guest columns for the Herald, I’ve had an opportunity to review the political machinations in Albany in some detail. My first eight columns left little doubt that a wide range of serious problems preclude the possibility of an effective, efficient government.

Our newly elected governor addressed these concerns in his “State of the State” message, promising to get the state’s fiscal house in order; radically redesign our governmental structures and operations and restore integrity and performance to state government. In particular, he envisions the transformation of a government known for dysfunction, gridlock and corruption, to a government of performance, integrity and pride. An interesting set of metaphors displayed on a banner of hope for all to see.

“Albany’s fiscal crisis and the road to redemption,” published on Jan. 13, leveraged the address, emphasizing what is actually required to restore confidence in our broken political process. Five additional columns commented on the shenanigans evident in dealing with both the budget deficit and the process.

Assuming your interest in the subject of reform, it is fair to ask if we are any better off today than when all of the exuberance expressed made headlines. Even more importantly, is there any way we can really assess performance? My next three columns will examine this question in detail, focusing on key stakeholders’ accomplishments in the reform process. For now let’s do an overall assessment.

Two hot topics are making news. In an attempt to stem the ruinous growth in New York’s public pensions, to his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to create a new pension tier that would save billions over the next 30 years, a grand plan that hardly addresses the absurdities of the current system. Ethics reform is equally disingenuous, with a 113-page bill that would require lawmakers to disclose only new client relationships “brought” in after 2012. Ultimate …   More

Rockville Centre Guest Column

On March 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced “historic” budget reforms that will slash $10 billion in current spending, assuming a redesign of state government, creation of efficiencies through consolidation, capping spending increases for education and Medicaid and transforming the budgeting process going forward.

Additional reductions totaling $45.3 billion are forecast through 2015, of which 86 percent involves less aid to localities.

Cuomo said bipartisan cooperation will give New Yorkers the “good” budget they deserve. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said, “This budget is a responsible budget that meets our goals of cutting spending, reducing taxes and empowering the private sector to create jobs.” Even Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was surprisingly amicable, suggesting the budget will “restore New Yorkers’ faith and confidence in government, making it more efficient and more productive.”

These pronouncements, while nice to hear, hype the evident realities. We are being asked to buy into a budget that:

assumes real savings will be realized by “redesigning” a badly flawed system of government by decree, almost overnight. Really?

It hardly addresses programs that no longer serve the public good.

assumes the stimulation of revenues with the introduction of a “modernized tax system.”

assumes “Medicaid costs will only grow at their proposed target rates,” etc.

In my column, “Stop playing games with the budget deficit” (Feb. 3), I wrote “the oft-quoted budget deficit continues to hang over our heads like a dark cloud.” Little did I realize how correct that was. On Feb. 23, during a speech at St. Joseph’s College, Cuomo called our state budget numbers “scary” and said the process leading to its preparation is “a sham…. an illusion foisted on the unsuspecting citizenry by craven special interest groups and their corrupt enablers, career Albany politicians.”

If …   More

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