The primary job of a governor is to run the state competently. That doesn't seem like a very high standard, but when you consider that Andrew M. Cuomo is the first governor of New York in years to do so, you must respect the accomplishment.
By almost any measure, Cuomo's leadership in his first term has been strong, pragmatic and successful.
When Cuomo took office in 2011, the state budget had not been completed on time in four years. He has now delivered four straight on-time budgets. That feat hadn't been managed in 40 years, and it matters greatly in the smooth operation of a huge state.
That first budget was deeply challenging, and Cuomo's methods in passing it set the tone for the term: generating popular support, projecting brute force toward his opponents and then, at crunchtime, making savvy political deals to bring the players together.
In that 2011 budget, he faced a projected $10-billion deficit. He handled that not with tax increases but with spending cuts, including a $1.5-billion slash to school aid that set the education lobby howling. Passing it showed how masterful the governor is in the dark arts of Albany, and how well he gauged the mood of the penny-pinched populace.
Cuomo has kept increases in state spending below 2 percent each year. And to attack spiraling property taxes, he spearheaded a 2 percent cap on hikes for municipalities and school districts that can only be breached by a 60 percent vote. That's a game-changer. Most municipalities and practically all local school districts avoid even trying to pierce the cap.
School taxes in New York increased an average of 6.3 percent annually between 1980 and 2010, meaning they multiplied by a factor of six. It is not an exaggeration to say the tax cap has changed the trajectory of the state. The cap, along with his successful fight to legalize same-sex marriage, are the highlights of Cuomo's tenure thus far.
And the low points? They've often come when the pragmatic governor was faced with highly idealistic issues. After the 2010 census, he promised he would veto any new maps for electoral districts that weren't created by an independent commission, but he backed down, then supported a new redistricting system. That system is up for a referendum in this election, and it isn't really an improvement.
In his plan for the next four years, Cuomo pledges to push campaign finance reform, improve access to voting and simplify ballots. That's great, but he also needs to fight to end the fusion voting that allows one candidate to represent multiple parties, and which has five candidates in this race running on 10 lines. Ending Wilson-Pakula, the law that lets parties give their ballot lines to members of other parties, also needs to be a Cuomo priority.
Rejecting third-party lines himself in this election would have been a way to lead by example, and we are disappointed he chose not to.
Cuomo's main opponent is Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican who's swung right on social issues and doesn't seem to disagree with Cuomo much on fiscal policy or governance.
Astorino wants to lower taxes, improve the business climate and control spending. But Cuomo, to the extent possible with an Assembly and Senate that don't always agree, has already done so, and will continue the fight more effectively than Astorino could. Astorino wholeheartedly supports hydrofracking while Cuomo has stalled on it. The effects fracking has on communities, environmentally and economically, are complex, and this doesn't need to be hurried into. And Astorino's fervent opposition to recent education reforms that culminated in his Stop Common Core ballot line is misguided.
Cuomo and Astorino also disagree strongly on gun control. But Cuomo, whose New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 is helping keep guns away from criminals and mentally ill people, is right, and Astorino is wrong.
Passed at lightning speed in the wake of the 2012 Newtown massacre, the SAFE Act is an example of what Cuomo critics hate most. He saw the opportunity and moved aggressively, passing an important (and in some ways poorly written) bill with little debate. It was unseemly. It was ferocious. And it was probably the only way to get the bill passed before the National Rifle Association could take over the debate.
Cuomo is also being challenged from the left by Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, whose common sense and workingman credentials may attract a lot of support. Hawkins is an idealistic progressive: He wants jobs, high wages and free health care for all, and all-renewable energy within 15 years. His ideas won't come to fruition anytime soon, but his voice is one that should be heard. Libertarian Michael McDermott also has added to the conversation by championing individual liberties, smaller government and lower taxes.
But Cuomo has the track record and the most fully formed vision. To have a successful second term, he must hold the line against politicians angling to weaken the tax cap. He must continue to support higher educational standards and accountability for teachers.
He must see that the budget surplus and a one-time windfall from bank fines is used for infrastructure projects that create jobs and invigorate the state.
For Long Island, Cuomo has to put his full weight behind revamping Republic Airport and adjacent land for business development. This project must succeed. He promises infrastructure improvements and environmental protection. New sewers and outfall pipes accomplish both. And those hurt by superstorm Sandy must get the help they were promised from NY Rising. Quickly.
New York has experienced remarkable success dealing with intractable problems and paralyzing issues during Cuomo's first four years. We believe the state will continue to do so in a second term.
Newsday endorses Cuomo.