Wouldn’t it be refreshing if during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual State of the State message Wednesday, he gave us all an honest assessment of the state of the state and a bold set of realistic solutions to address its problems?
But the word “No” is rarely heard in such speeches, particularly in years like this one, when the governor, all top state office holders and all 213 state legislators are up for re-election in November.
This is the time when state leaders traditionally promise to spend even more money on education and social services, to throw more millions at economic development, provide more goodies like free college tuition and universal pre-K, and to spend more tax dollars on projects that help incumbents get re-elected.
But that’s not what New York needs now. New York needs the parent that’s willing to tell his kids that they can’t have that new iPhone or those new Nikes this year.
The state is facing a budget gap of about $4.4 billion, with no obvious means to fill it this year.
We need someone willing to shut off the state spending spigot that drives up taxes, discourages business development and drives people out of state — 190,000 in the past year.
Making the decisions more difficult will be interests representing education, labor, the poor, local governments and businesses clamoring for the state to spend more to address their needs.
Many of these needs are legitimate. We can’t let our children suffer in schools that don’t have adequate funding to educate them. We can’t let the homeless die in the streets. We can’t let senior citizens starve or be kicked out of their homes.
In the face of those challenges, the governor needs to demonstrate courage and creativity. That could mean making the politically difficult decision to take away money from other interests that aren’t so pressing. The governor is expected to include some kind of changes to the state tax code to reduce the impact of the federal tax changes on the New Yorkers who pay the most to support state spending.
He’ll have to, as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said, call for a top-to-bottom review of all economic development initiatives, including tax breaks and other business incentives, to ensure they’re an effective use of state money. Several recent initiatives have proven not to be.
And he must resist the urge to pass the state’s fiscal problems onto local governments and school districts — already hamstrung by a tax cap — through new state mandates.
We don’t need the governor to deliver an election-year message Wednesday. We need him to lay out a viable blueprint for addressing our real problems now.
Anything less than that will not only be a disappointment, but a failure.