Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Real Straight Talk Express on Government Reform

In this morning's NY Daily News, Bill Hammond lauds four Democratic leaders in the state who are talking straight about the need for reforming state government in order to address our budget meltdown; it's a stance that the legislature needs to follow: "A remarkable thing is happening to New York's Democratic Party in this economic crisis: Its leaders are acting like grownups. Some of the highest-ranking, most popular Dems in the state - up to and including Gov. Paterson - are banging the drum for lower spending and smaller government while raising taxes only as a last resort. Which is hardly what you'd expect from Moscow-on-the-Hudson liberals."

This is refreshing indeed-although the governor sounded a but squishy on new taxes yesterday; not to mention his silly fat fee on soda. That being said, reform is in the air: "But the party's top leaders - including Paterson, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and state Controller Tom DiNapoli - have shed their big-spending tendencies and transformed themselves into responsible custodians of state dollars. Which offers at least some comfort for New York's beleaguered taxpayers. Tuesday, Paterson will pick a fight with his party's most powerful interest groups - public employee unions - when he rolls out his 2009-10 budget. Instead of going along with the massive income tax hike that the unions want, he will instead make deep cuts in school aid and Medicaid - programs dear to the hearts (and campaign accounts) of party regulars."

All of which is to the good if we can find allies for this new deal in the legislature-something that is in real doubt with the Working Families Party screaming for more taxes. The four leaders, however, have read the economic tea leaves: "They understand that Wall Street's golden goose is done laying eggs for the near future. They know that pushing the highest taxes in the nation even higher will only drive more jobs and families away - and seal New York's rep as the Vampire State. They sense the frustration of voters. They recognize that bloated business as usual has to stop. They're leading their party and the state in the right direction. Here's hoping they get somewhere."

And Governor Paterson even did something we thought he never would-sign an enforcement bill on taxing Indian cigarette retailers. Now, as the NY Post opines, he must find the will and the methodology to enforce the law: "But the governor's signature doesn't necessarily mean that the state will see one extra dollar. After all, New Yorkers have seen this before. In 2006, then-Gov. George Pataki signed a law that was supposed to tax Indian smokes. But, fearing Indian violence, he did nothing to enforce it - and his two successors were more than happy to follow his example."

The jury's out on this because the enforcement methodology on the bill is too complex; and as the Post rightfully points out: "Better still would have been for Paterson to use the authority he already has - and require all cigarettes sold on reservations to have their taxes paid in advance."

All in all, however, we're beginning to hear the right things from our leaders-although in the city all of this talk of governmental reform appears to have gone over the mayor's head as if the talk was all gibberish. Where was Mike Bloomberg for the last seven years? And how come we haven't heard an encouraging reform word from him? He remains clueless-and only seems to want to threaten the city council with fire and police service cuts-a sure sign of intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

The state and city are at a political crossroads where, as Nicole Gelinas points out this morning, opportunity exists to make the right economic choices so that the future can be secured. The state leaders have stepped up-and the senate with a new leader will hopefully as well-so we await the mayor and the city council to follow suit; after all, another term has to be for a reason; no?