William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
Indeed, Governor Cuomo's State of the State Address Wednesday was remarkable as much for its stridency as for its content.
Unfortunately, the whole thing was based on a lie.
For an hour and a quarter, Mr. Cuomo hammered away at today's liberal touchpoints -- a minimum-wage increase, public campaign financing, gender pay equity, gun control -- in order to shore up his credentials with the political left.
"It's her body; it's her choice!," he thundered three times consecutively -- to a legislative body that legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade.
The governor anointed New York "the progressive capital" of America. (Folks in San Francisco will surely have something to say about that). He promised a billion dollars in new spending on affordable housing and billions more in infrastructure improvements. Our subways will be floodproofed; our harbors storm-surge-proofed and our gas stations blackout-proofed. There will be casinos and tax-free zones to revitalize the upstate economy.
But nowhere in his speech did the governor mention the difficult but essential things that have to be done in order to save New York from its downward spiral. Not a word was spoken about the state mandates squeezing counties and local governments to death, or the exorbitant state pension costs gobbling up dollars that used to go to services.
He spoke about those things when he first came into office, but not on Tuesday.
In November, I wrote nice things about Cuomo here in Newsday, but warned that ambition might prove to be his Achilles' heel. That has borne out faster than I feared.
"Standing between him and the nomination," I wrote, "are public employee union leaders who can make or break Democratic presidential aspirants -- the same union bosses who have been trying to stall the governor's Albany reform agenda for the past two years. They have the money, troops and organizational ability to turn the tide in huge primary states like Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and California. They are no doubt reminding the governor's political team of that daily."
Those union leaders must have been top of mind when the governor and his handlers conspicuously omitted in his speech any mention of the fiscal reforms that he pledged to pursue just 24 months ago.
Here's the rub: If pension and mandate reform isn't delivered in New York, the very social safety net that New York Democrats love so much is going to be severely compromised going forward. It's already happening, and that's where the lie of Gov. Cuomo's speech becomes apparent.
With each passing budget, school districts are feeling the squeeze of Cuomo's 2 percent property tax cap, which was passed sans mandate relief. That means fewer school programs for struggling districts. Not-for-profits that relied on local government funding are being gutted, too, and if you look at New York's pension actuarial charts, the pain is only beginning.
The tax cap was a great idea, but only if Albany stopped forcing counties, municipalities and school districts to pay for state programs that Albany won't fund. The governor promised that mandate relief was coming next when he signed the tax cap into law, but now he seems to have walked away from that.
He's also apparently walked away from meaningful pension reform. These are the costs that are bleeding New York dry. As Mayor Mike Bloomberg has repeatedly pointed out, we are now paying more for trash picked up years ago through pension payments than for trash picked up today. Those public employee pensions are guaranteed, so when the money runs low, it's the social safety net programs that get the ax.
California pension adviser David Crane spelled it out perfectly a couple of years back. "I have a special word for my fellow Democrats," he wrote. "One cannot both be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform. The math is irrefutable that the losers from excessive and unfunded pensions are precisely the programs progressive Democrats tend to applaud."
Cuomo's speech Wednesday signaled an abrupt, but not unexpected, end to his promise as a fiscal reformer. It marked the day he chose his own political career over the best interests of his state.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant. This is a corrected version of the column. An earlier version named the wrong Chavez that Republicans are comparing the speech to.