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Editorial: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's challenge -- enact ambitious plans

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's to-do list for

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's to-do list for 2014 is ambitious, and his challenge is to enact his proposals into law. Here he delivers his 2014 State of the State address. (Jan. 8, 2014) Credit: Getty Images

Ideally, the State of the State address from our governor each year delivers a twofold message. The first part is assessment: Tell us where we are. The second, more compelling part is aspiration: Tell us where we need to go, what it is New York can be and achieve, and how we'll get there.

A third part that generally rounds out such a speech, self-promotion, is hard for any governor to resist: Tell us how much better off we are since you took the reins.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to be fair, can crow with facts. New York State has made considerable progress since he delivered his first such speech in 2011 -- balancing three budgets, passing a property tax cap, moving forward in a heated battle over education reform and teacher evaluations, reducing unemployment and generally beating back the governmental dysfunction that was the rule here for so long.

Where are we headed? Cuomo proposed a string of mostly admirable improvements. The question is whether he can turn these often expensive aspirations into funded initiatives that deliver results.

Education took up much of Cuomo's energy, as he talked about making New York's schools and public colleges the best in the world. To do so, he's pushing a voter referendum to borrow $2 billion for new technology in schools. And he says he'll find money in his budget for universal prekindergarten and full-tuition scholarships to SUNY and CUNY schools for top state high school graduates who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math and stay in the state for five years.

Financially and logistically, that's quite a wish list, and his biggest fight may be in proposing bonuses of up to $20,000 for top-performing teachers. That's the kind of move teachers unions often strongly oppose, preferring a one-size-fits-all worldview in which teachers who have lots of merit are paid the same as those who display none.

Tax reform is back, with small cuts for corporations and a "circuit breaker" that would lower property taxes when they exceed a certain percentage of a homeowner's income. More politically pointed is a two-year cut in property taxes Cuomo proposed: Owners whose taxing entities keep increases within the 2 percent cap in the first year would see the state cover the increase. But in the second year Cuomo wants only owners whose taxing entities achieve consolidation or share services with other districts to get the break, in the hope that voters (or political challengers) will force officials into these changes.

And the governor announced that he will take direct control of renovations at LaGuardia Airport's central passenger terminal and of the rebuilding of the cargo infrastructure at Kennedy Airport, long overdue improvements that got bogged down at the Port Authority.

But the most important aspiration Cuomo voiced was broader, more emotional: that we can become a state whose elected officials have high ethical standards, whose women are not discriminated against, whose people accept and promote diversity, whose business climate is superb and whose physical beauty is recognized, enhanced, enjoyed and visited.

The aspiration is truly to be the Empire State once again, in fact as well as in name. Now the plan and execution must be as lofty.