When Andrew M. Cuomo was elected last November, it was to preside over a state wracked by deficits and a capital rightly held in contempt by the electorate. Except for corruption, at which it was a paragon of efficiency, Albany was otherwise the living symbol of governmental dysfunction.
And there was reason for skepticism about the new guy. A previous Democratic former attorney general with brains, energy and ego -- that would be Eliot Spitzer -- took office only four years earlier, proclaiming that everything would change, but managing only to embody the disgrace and futility he was elected to banish.
No one but Cuomo, perhaps, could have imagined that six months after his inauguration, New York's new governor this time around would compile a record of early achievement unequaled since Hugh Carey rescued New York City from near-bankruptcy in 1975. While both averted fiscal disasters, Cuomo's additional accomplishments are unparalleled since Nelson Rockefeller's election more than half a century ago.
Who last year could have dreamed that New York State, where budgets usually arrive late and laden with gimmicks, would adopt a sensible fiscal plan on schedule? That it would cut spending for the first time in 15 years? That it would even reduce deficits in future years, instead of increasing them, and rein in Medicaid as well?
Who would have predicted that, after years of soaring property taxes, Albany would cap future increases? That lawmakers would require themselves to make crucial ethics disclosures? That a governor would wrest significant concessions from the state's biggest civil servants union? That, after years of deadlock, New York would finally have a law enabling the siting of new power plants? That our state universities, starved of the funds to pursue greatness, would finally get a steady revenue stream from predictably rising tuition? Or that, in a final high-stakes wager, the governor would put his political capital on the line and make same-sex marriage legal in New York?
There's still plenty to do, of course. Cuomo must veto a bill that would let school districts borrow to pay for pension expenses. He must live up to his pledge to veto any gerrymandered plan for drawing up new legislative districts. And somebody needs to change the way things are done in Albany. Laws are like sausages, the saying goes; better not to see them being made. But New Yorkers have strong stomachs, and they deserve to hear more of the debate that shapes the laws they will live under.
We don't know yet what bargains Cuomo might have made to win approval for his initiatives, or what might go wrong in the rest of his term. But we do know that New York has finally begun to shed its reputation for scandal and fiscal irresponsibility, becoming instead the place that got its house in order without the ocean of vitriol that has scalded some other states. And in keeping with its best traditions, New York is the first big state to grant full rights to gay Americans.
Give the guy credit. Almost overnight, it seems, the governor put a little empire back in the Empire State. And that's a powerful feeling for New Yorkers. hN