Not content to rest on his considerable laurels, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo outlined an enormous agenda in his State of the State message to the legislature yesterday, and while the sheer scope of the thing raises questions of focus, we can only marvel at its ambition. At a time of gridlock or retrenchment in governments everywhere else, New York's chief executive is still thinking big.
Enacting even one or two of his grander proposals would be an accomplishment in itself. To spur the state's economy, for example, he wants a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos. The reality, as the governor acknowledged, is that there is already a lot of legal gambling in and around New York, at Indian or out-of-state casinos. Letting people gamble closer to home if they wish -- and harvesting some of the economic winnings for the state's economy -- makes sense initially -- but more details are needed before the state green lights such a change.
The governor's plan to build America's largest convention center at Aqueduct Raceway -- and redevelop the Javits Center site in Manhattan -- makes similar economic sense. Convention centers are notorious losers for the communities that build them -- except Cuomo proposes to build this one not with public funds but with $4 billion in private money in a deal with the Genting Group of Malaysia, which has a racino at Aqueduct and sees profit in conventioneers. The consequences for the surrounding Queens community, Belmont Park, the Shinnecock Indians, who are seeking permission to build a casino, and the future of horse racing in the state, need to be closely examined before such a deal unfolds.
Cuomo's call for an energy highway to bring cheap power south from upstate is more than welcome. His determination to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge -- after 15 years of study -- will elicit hosannas from across the region. His idea for a task force to coordinate, for the first time, infrastructure spending statewide, so that priorities can be set and public funds can be leveraged to bring private investment, is beyond sensible. If he can carry out his $1-billion plan to rebuild Buffalo's economy, people will swear that he can cross the Hudson River without a bridge.
That's to say nothing of his plans for public financing of campaigns, or independent redrawing of legislative districts. One of the best things about this State of the State event in Albany was the ongoing collective hug between Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). A lot of good things happened in Albany last year, including a spending cut, a tax cap and legal same-sex marriage, but none would have been possible if all sides hadn't worked together.
Not all was sunshine and light. Cuomo made a big deal about improving public education but offered few new ideas for doing so. And we'd like faster action on relief from costly state mandates for local governments and school districts living under the new tax cap.
It's heartening to see a politician determined to tackle long-standing problems, no matter how large, while acknowledging the importance of maintaining fiscal discipline. Cuomo did just that in his first year. If he can do it again in 2012, we'll all be the better for it.