Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled no punches in his State of the State Address laying out an aggressive plan to restore New Yorkers faith in its State government at a time of crisis for the Empire State.
"We have a government of dysfunction, gridlock, and corruption," said Cuomo.
Cuomo repeatedly stated that his economic proposals were not going to be cost-cutting and budget-trimming exercises but a "fundamental economic realignment of the State of New York". He noted that New York's financial condition is 41st in the country, with just 8 states being in worse condition than New York State.
The two changes offered by Cuomo which will impact New Rochelle residents the most were a proposed 2% Tax Cap on local property taxes and a shift to funding based on performance grants. Cuomo singled out Westchester as having the highest taxes in the nation, saying that New Yorkers cannot be taxed any more.
Cuomo called the current level of spending by the government unsustainable pointing to a New York State budget deficit of $10 billion this year, $14 billion the next year and $17 billion the year after.
At times serious, at times humorous, Cuomo painted a grim picture of a government run amuck, beholden to special interest groups, out of touch with residents and no longer trusted by New Yorkers. In one example, Cuomo shows a complex flow chart all related to the Department of Health which is connected to 87 different organizations creating bloat, inefficiency and waste.
To get a handle on out of control government growth Cuomo stressed that the need was for wholesale reinvention of the government as opposed to nibbling on the edged. He called for an emergency financial plan to stabilize States finances including a wage freeze, holding the line on taxes, a state spending cap and finding a way to close a $1 billion gap without borrowing.
Noting that New York State had the highest spending on education in the United Stated but ranked 34th in performance, Cuomo proposed radically altering education funding, moving away from formula-based block grants to performance-based grants. No more getting what a district gets automatically regardless of whether the district is doing a good job or bad job. Cuomo cited how, at the federal level, the government runs competitions like Race to the Top which worked very well in pushing the State of New York to authorize charter schools in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds.
"Competition works," said Cuomo.
Cuomo proposed a dual approach. He wants two competitive funds, one related to school performance and one to administrative efficiency. The State would offer $250 million in a competitive fund for schools that increase performance in the classroom for district. Other districts will then strive to emulate the winners to get funds in the future. In addition, there would be a $250 million fund for schools that find administrative efficiencies like shared services. The two competitions would incentivize performance and change behavior through the funding mechanism for education.
Cuomo laid out Four Principles for his administration:
1. Pay-for-performance -- no more blank checks
2. Get results in real time
3. Put people first over special interests
4. Make New York an icon for integrity -- a place where New Yorker can be proud of their government once again
Declaring the government he now leads has "lost credibility with the people of the State" Cuomo called on legislators to pass real ethics reform immediately. Under his "Cleanup Albany Plan" Cuomo would end "pay to play" require full disclosure of all outside income, require an Independent auditor, have independent redistricting and provide for public financing of political campaigns.
Cuomo went on to cite a laundry list of objectives such as modernizing the financial regulatory system in New York, an end to incarcerating people just so other people can have jobs, allowing gay marriage, creating a urban green markets program which would host New York agricultural products in urban locations, a sort of binding arbitration to fix Medicaid, mandate relief.
Cuomo ended on a note of optimism, saying that New York's situation was not unique.
"There is economic recalibration for states all across the nation," said Cuomo. "This has happened before with the agricultural transition, and industrial transition, the high-tech transition and now this policy is a major transition and that New York State. Cuomo said it was an opportunity for New York to once again win in a transitionary period by being smarter about it than other states.
Speaking for about 48 minutes at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany rather that the State Legislature Building, Cuomo used an animated PowerPoint presentation that was at times chilling, at times humorous like a series of slides about how the budget process was like ships passing in the night. Zooming in on the ship's decks, the slides showed the Senate Majority Leader and the Assembly Speaker and Cuomo captaining the three ships as an airplane fired air-to-sea missiles at Cuomo's shipping, the airplane representing the special interests attacking Cuomo.
Channel 12, shortly after the speech, asked viewers if Cuomo would be able to fix Albany's problems. Just 6% said "yes".