“People are really distrustful of government, and I wanted to say to them this year, ‘I’m coming to you. I’m bringing government to you.'”
That’s how Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded when asked last weekend on a New York City talk show about his decision to forgo a single State of the State message in favor of a six-city statewide tour.
My, how quickly things change. And for New York state residents, it’s not change for the better.
A week ago, the governor was all too happy to bring government to the distrustful people by bouncing around the state announcing all kinds of generous new spending programs.
In doing so, he abandoned the traditional State of the State address normally delivered in a single presentation to the entire Legislature, government leaders and the public.
The targeted, campaign-like speeches allowed the governor to splinter his message to multiple audiences over several days, so that only the positive highlights would get attention and so that criticism couldn’t be delivered in a single punch.
But this week, when it came time for the governor to detail how he planned to pay for all his generosity and close a potential $1 billion budget gap through the presentation of his executive budget proposal, he suddenly wasn’t as ebullient in sharing the details with those same citizens.
As he did with the State of the State message, the governor abandoned the traditional single presentation of his budget to the Legislature and press briefi ngs. But this time, he didn’t take his show on the road to the people.
Instead, he held secret, closed-door meetings with groups of legislators all throughout the day and evening Tuesday at the governor’s mansion (not at the state capitol where they all work). Some lawmakers never were able to fi nd their way to the meetings.
Additionally, instead of providing the press and good-government groups with the thick budget books detailing the spending plan early in the morning — which would have given them all day to digest, assess and report on the reams of information — the governor wouldn’t release the documents until later in the day. And it wasn’t until Tuesday night that he fi nally met with reporters about the budget.
Sure, Mr. Cuomo ultimately agreed to take reporters’ questions. But by putting them off all day, he avoided the early TV newscasts and ensured that only the highlights of his budget would make the morning papers. The rest of the information will dribble out over days.
The governor’s presentation of his executive budget should be as convenient, open and transparent as possible. Instead, he made the process as secretive and diffi cult to access as he could.
That’s not transparency. That’s not bringing information directly to the people. That’s not promoting trust in government.
It’s a calculated ploy to fracture the press coverage, disenfranchise the Legislature and distract the public.
The governor needs to stop playing games and go back to delivering the State of the State and executive budget in a single, cohesive, coherent manner so that all New Yorkers have an equal opportunity to evaluate and question the vital information these presentations contain.