Less than two months into his administration, Governor Andrew Cuomo is in a really tough spot. The long-anticipated economic recovery still hasn’t arrived and taxpayers are out for blood.
The state is running at a deficit, so the folks in Albany are talking about lopping off huge chunks of the budget. The potential cuts getting the most attention are in school aid, a budget line that affects virtually every community in the state. And since school expenses represent 60 percent or more of the average North Fork homeowner’s property tax bill, a cut in state school aid would be especially painful.
The governor has offered several potential remedies, but none seems to fit the bill. He’s called on local school districts to tap into their reserves to offset the likely loss of state funding. That’s a stop-gap measure at best and fiscally reckless at worst. It might work for one year, but then what? Mr. Cuomo also suggested placing a cap on school administrators’ salaries far below what many, if not most, already earn. That’s political grandstanding and we expected more from him. While we’re at it, how about also capping the governor’s and state legislators’ salaries at a number far below what they currently make?
Mr. Cuomo this week also released his preliminary report on state mandate relief, which comes in response to calls from local schools and governments that have long argued, with no small amount of merit, that the state freely dictates procedures and programs without providing implementation funding. But these mandate relief measures also fall flat.
In accepting the preliminary findings of his “mandate relief redesign team,” the governor suggests easing the labor requirements on public works projects. Sounds good, but in this climate who’s building? Mr. Cuomo also calls for a new state law and constitutional amendment to prevent future unfunded mandates. The problem isn’t in the future; it’s here and now. Other recommendations include reviewing and analyzing mandate impacts, a proven recipe for paralysis by analysis.
If the governor is serious about mandate relief now rather than in five years, he and his team should simply sit down with a representative group of school superintendents, listen to their concerns and craft realistic alternatives that can be implemented now, not in five years. That’s not the way Albany usually works, but the old ways don’t work.
The people of New York want, need and deserve leadership that’s bold, not bureaucratic.