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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: Republicans own the state's failures, too

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, June 12, 2014,

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, June 12, 2014, that he’s willing to adjust but not delay teacher evaluations. Here he's seen a day earlier giving a speech at SUNY Old Westbury. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

New York Senate Republicans have been using the same tired electoral mantra for years. I know, I've been one of them.

The pitch goes this way: We know we're not perfect, but, hey, this is a Democratic state. Can you imagine what it would look like if the Democrats had complete control?

There's been some truth to the argument, which has worked for a long time. But perhaps it's time to pause and reflect on where, exactly, this loyal Republican opposition has gotten New York. Let's see . . . We're No. 1 in property taxes nationwide; No. 1 in overall taxes; we're ranked as the state with the worst economic outlook in America by the American Legislative Exchange Council; we have the most corrupt state government in America, according to the University of Illinois; we're losing more citizens to other states than any other state; we're 48th in business climate, according to the Tax Foundation; we have the second-highest electric rates in the country; we rank as the worst state in America in which to retire, and the list goes on.

My God, where would we be if the Democrats were in charge?

The complacency of Senate Republicans to be little more than a speed bump in Albany has done nothing, ultimately, to stop New York from its inexorable slide to 50th place among states in category after category. And it's done nothing to grow the party.

Indeed, the senate's surrender stance has probably squandered whatever momentum New York Republicans once had as the party of reform following the elections of Rudy Giuliani as mayor of New York City in 1993 and George Pataki as governor a year later. Since the early 2000s, state voters have drifted away from the feckless GOP in droves. Consider this: When Pataki beat Mario Cuomo in 1994, there were about a million more Democrats than Republicans in New York. Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 2.5 million, and that trend continues.

In recent years, Republicans in Albany have taken on a beleaguered stance to the point where they seem to have no agenda whatsoever -- other than to remain in power. Sure, Senate Republicans have stopped some bills from becoming law, like late-term abortion expansion and publicly financed elections for all state offices, but I can't remember the last time they were driving ideas of their own. Senate Republicans are a team always on defense and never on offense. Has any team in any sport ever won anything that way?

I strongly suspect that a reason for the senate's mousiness is the cozy relationship its leaders formed with the public employee unions beginning more than a dozen years ago. Those unions, especially SEIU 1199, began supporting Republican candidates with dollars and field support and the Republicans rolled over like beagles for a tummy scratch. Efforts to achieve pension reform, or other taxpayer savings from overgenerous union contracts, suspiciously vanished.

Those unions are now turning their backs on senate Republicans, probably because they think Republicans can't hold power much longer. And they'll be right if those Republicans keep playing it "safe." This union change of heart gives State Senate Republicans renewed freedom to act like Republicans again, to say good riddance to the union bosses and to start proposing real reforms.

Sure the unions will attack. But if the Republican Senate is to grow in New York rather than shrink -- if the Republican Party is to grow -- it needs candidates willing to risk losing election or re-election to save this state from its dead-last status in taxes and economic outlook. A party on its heels is a party with both feet in the grave. A party on its toes is a party with a future. Senate Republicans need to get back on their toes.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.