You're running an enterprise.
You've just had a serious storm that has caused a lot of damage, so you've got to rebuild. It so happens that, independent of the storm, a lot of your capital equipment is old or in serious disrepair, and it's energy inefficient. Interest rates are lower than they've been in years, and your credit rating is pretty good.
What do you do?
This is not rocket science. You go out and borrow money from the bank both to rebuild in the wake of the storm and to modernize your capital plant, so that you can be more efficient and more prosperous. Because you're in a tough business with lots of competition.
Now let's add the following information: Suppose the enterprise you're running is New York State.
Everything we said above holds true, with the following addition: Rebuilding your capital plant can create a lot of jobs (private companies want to minimize the number of jobs they have). If you're New York State, your capital plant is called infrastructure, and failure to modernize means you will go on losing jobs, population and businesses to other regions and countries.
So let's look at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State address, given on Wednesday, and see what he had to say on the subject.
Overall, the governor has made huge strides in getting the state back on a responsible fiscal path. Financial pressure on local governments around the state is still severe and in some cases increasing -- and at some point the state will have to come up with a plan that stabilizes state and local finances together. No serious signs of that in the State of the State.
In the area of economic development and energy, however, there were some good proposals. The Greenbank ($1 billion) for energy efficiency and renewables makes sense. So does the new round of low-income housing, and the expanded effort to connect university high-tech centers with start-up businesses.
But sadly, there was no large multiyear, multisector capital infrastructure proposal. That's the single largest long-term job and growth driver the state controls, and the combination of superstorm Sandy, Cuomo's popularity, and the national concern with economic growth make this the right moment to make such a proposal. As the governor's report, issued with the address, says, we are "not driving economic recovery at a fast enough pace." (Disclosure: I serve on the governor's NY Works Task Force, a panel focused on statewide infrastructure plans.)
The voluminous documents released with the State of the State offer many proposals and ideas. Who could not applaud the governor's tough proposals on gun control? But in terms of economic growth, the problem is just that: It's a list, not a strategy. It's similar to the State of the State address given by another governor whose name also begins with C: Chris Christie of New Jersey. His address, like Cuomo's, was essentially a list of accomplishments and proposals. The speeches read like the words of men preparing to run for office, not laying out a coherent strategy.
As it turns out, both are preparing to run for re-election -- Christie this year, and Cuomo next. And it's not impossible to imagine that these two might run face to face for president in 2016.
What counts in New York now, however, is not what the governor said on Jan. 9, but what he does. His popularity is high, he has shown enormous skill in working with a legislature he has tamed to the point that its members are appropriately respectful and, unlike the Congress, not bitterly divided and paralyzed. The stars are aligned for a governor who wants to make a real difference. Let's hope Cuomo can put a capital investment program in place that will lead people, 10 years from now, to say, "That's what really got New York moving again."