State budget done, but more to do
Jaded by years of scandal and dysfunction in Albany, New Yorkers aren't easily shocked by anything that happens there. Yet this week the governor and legislature did something truly astonishing.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, empowered by voters, gifted with cleverness and in alignment with Republicans, acted swiftly to neutralize the forces that stymied change. They cut state spending for the first time in 15 years. They capped future increases for education and Medicaid. They agreed to eliminate 3,700 unnecessary prison beds. They moved to consolidate state agencies and commissions to save money. They avoided new taxes. They created economic councils to spur growth. And they did it all on time.
Evidently, a season of miracles is upon us. Now that the budget is out of the way, lawmakers should have plenty of time and energy to spend elsewhere -- something that in the past would have made us nervous. But this year, given their accomplishments, we can't resist suggesting that our elected leaders try doing some more good.
The opportunity is especially great for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who deserves credit for his role in passing his first budget in timely fashion but who has waffled on a campaign pledge to make redistricting nonpartisan.
Every 10 years, based on the latest census, New York's legislative districts must be redrawn to take account of population shifts. Traditionally, this process is highly politicized -- and designed to keep incumbents in power. Both parties strive for the purest possible Republican or Democratic districts.
But in several states, gerrymandering is avoided by handing the process to a nonpartisan panel. Cuomo supports just such a system for New York, and during last year's campaign Skelos pledged to support it too. Unfortunately, since then he's decided a constitutional amendment would be needed. It's time for Skelos to keep his word and back legislation to give New York nonpartisan redistricting. That might jeopardize the razor-thin Republican Senate majority, but doing the right thing is surely the best way to win new voters.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should also get moving to put a cap on property tax increases. Cuomo campaigned on this platform and he should use his popularity and clout to make it happen. Caps are not a panacea, but property owners on Long Island and elsewhere in the state must cope with some of the highest property taxes in the nation -- taxes that go up faster than inflation year after year. While not ideal, a cap would at least stop the runaway increases.
In fairness, a tax cap should be accompanied by relief from the cost of mandates imposed by the state on local governments and school districts. Otherwise, the taxpayers still take the hit. The Senate says it is ready to start wiping some mandates off the board, so let it rip. It's a good way to smoke out those who always talk about it but never act.
With the budget taken care of, let's hope the surprises keep coming out of Albany. Then maybe someday, with any luck, good news from the capital won't be a surprise at all.