Release: Assembly Passes 2013 Fair Elections ActView Update
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A fairly productive legislative session in Albany ended last week, which makes this the perfect time to call for a special session after Election Day. There’s plenty more to do, and the best time to address politically difficult issues is right after one election and far in front of the next one. It’s a sign of how much Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has raised the bar for governing that this year’s accomplishments are being met with something less than celebration. For two years he’s competently choreographed the business of the state and corralled legislative leaders, leading to balanced budgets approved on time. In addition, the governor has managed to pass a couple of game-changers each year.
But the property tax cap and same-sex marriage, last year’s top triumphs, felt bigger than this year’s: pension reform, setting up an agency to better oversee care of the state’s disabled and mentally ill, a first whack at an amendment to expand gambling, and the takeover of the New York Racing Association. What’s more, with Cuomo’s approval rating at 71 percent, he’s perceived to have enough political capital to move policy mountains and molehills both, and people want theirs shifted ASAP.
Cuomo adamantly adheres to the politics of the possible. That tactical, measured approach doesn’t always look noble, but the politics of the impossible are a lot worse.
His deal on limiting the release of teacher evaluations — which would have been far more useful had it given parents information on potential teachers before kids were assigned to them — got him buy-in from hundreds of school-district unions to let the larger plan go forward. His deal to reduce pension benefits for future public employees can’t lessen the current burden on local governments much, but over time it’s projected to save $80 billion, and it introduced 401(k)s into the system. These are imperfect improvements, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t progress.
Cuomo still has much to accomplish, and a special session right after November’s elections is the best time to start. State lawmakers want their first raises in 13 years, which would be fine if in return they rein in the easily abused per diems and special payments that inflate their compensation and make them beholden to the party leadership. It’s also the best time to take on, or at least begin taking on, campaign finance reform. The massive donations that individuals can make to candidates for state office leave the door open to tremendous influence peddling. The time has come for a statewide public financing system, similar to the one in New York City, and Cuomo is assembling considerable support, outside the legislature, at least, to carry that battle forward.
The governor could also give more time to the unsexy initiatives that make things run better: more relief for schools and municipalities from Albany-imposed requirements, better-designed and more readable election ballots, and easier access to public information online.
Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. Cuomo has the tools and support he needs to keep making major strides for New York. He’s done it so far, and in doing so, set the high standard by which he’ll continue to be judged.