Memo to Governor-elect Cuomo – By George J. Marlin
The following appears in the November 19-25 issue of the Long Island Business News:
Congratulations on your election. You received a decisive mandate from an angry and frustrated public that’s clamoring for radical fiscal restraint and ethical reforms imposed on state and local elected officials.
You have your work cut out for you but if you vigorously exercise the inherent powers of your office early in your term, particularly those granted in the state Constitution’s Executive Budget Amendment that gives the governor primary responsibility for shaping the state’s financial policies, you will save the Empire State from swerving over the edge of the precipice.
No doubt you are being inundated with advice from scores of political wags. So, here are a few more suggestions to add to the pile offered in the spirit of bi-partisanship from a New York conservative.
The budget. To tackle New York’s financial woes you should consider hiring a strong-willed Patti Woodworth-type budget director who has a national reputation as an aggressive disciplinarian over spending and is capable of working smarter with less. Also, announcing on Jan. 1 a hiring freeze and moratorium on regulations would be a good opening salvo.
Unfunded state mandates. There are over 2,000 unfunded state mandates that consume, on the average, 60 percent of county governments’ budgets. Creating a bipartisan panel to recommend ways to curtail these unfair burdens would be a godsend for financially strapped local municipalities.
Local property tax cap. Retiring baby boomers, whose entire Social Security allowance is being used to pay property taxes, are selling their homes in droves and moving to low-tax states. Young people are also leaving New York because they don’t have the earning power to cover mortgage payments and with huge taxes. Despite all the talk of frugality, school taxes on Long Island continue to soar. My tax bill due this month jumped 8 percent – three times the inflation rate. If the mass exodus is to be stopped, a genuine cap that restrains tax and spend school district bureaucrats should be a top priority.
Debt reform. There should be an overhaul of New York’s long-term debt practices. Backdoor borrowing that evades ballot box approval should be halted. Thirty-year bonds used to finance current operating expenditures and not capital projects should be eliminated.
Moreland Commission. To tame the Legislature, you should consider employing the Moreland Act which vests you with broad unilateral authority to create an investigative commission with power to issue subpoenas and take testimony to document corruption, fraud or wrongdoing. Creating a Moreland Commission with a panel of renowned New York “wise men” who are above partisan politics would ensure an honest report that details for taxpayers the ugly reality of the Legislature and the lobbyists and other rent-seekers that feed off them.
Public authorities. It’s time to tame the sprawling maze of state authorities. An inspector general’s report released last week details outrageous abuses at Battery Park City Authority. Vast sums of the people’s money were squandered on lavish parties, expensive apartments and other shenanigans. The time has come to clean out the political hacks from these authorities. You should send a letter to every authority board member and CEO requesting their resignations. This will give you the opportunity to replace them with public-minded people who are not interested in perks and self-aggrandizement.
Finally, I recommend you hang on your office wall your father’s Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More and always remember these words he uttered: “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Space limits me to these few recommendations, but your reform opportunities are practically unlimited. To succeed, stick to the principles of shared pain you outlined in the campaign. If you can pull our state back from the brink, anything is possible.