Spitzer & Reform

I've never heard of Steven Malanga, nor of the "City Weekly", but I link to an article written by said Mr. Malanga in said "City Weekly" regarding reform in Albany, and the Spitzer campaign.
Should he win, Spitzer should take as his model Thomas Dewey, another two-fisted prosecutor who had built a national reputation for effectiveness by busting mobsters before he won the governorship in 1943. Dewey assumed an office that Governor Al Smith—in what columnist Walter Lippmann called “one of the greatest achievements in modern American politics”—had made awesomely powerful, especially in giving the governor a tight control over the budget that allowed him to set the state’s agenda, control that has lasted to this day. Dewey wielded that power fearlessly. He faced down the state’s special interests, both in his own GOP and across the aisle. He resisted demands from leaders of his party to fill his administration with patronage appointments. He forced a GOP-dominated legislature to reapportion itself to reflect population changes, a task it had shirked for 25 years, and he prevented GOP leaders from raiding a capital fund that he had set up for postwar building projects. He continued the effort, begun by Smith in the 1920s, to eliminate state agencies, boards, and commissions. When special interests tried to stymie his reform efforts, he fought implacably. Despite fierce resistance from the city’s teachers’ lobby and its Democratic allies, for instance, he reorganized management of the New York City education system, eliminating the power of the teacher-dominated board of superintendents and giving control to a single professional superintendent, to the applause of good-government groups. When legislators tried to skip out on votes for such controversial reform legislation, the sergeant at arms would round them up from the statehouse’s nooks and crannies, dragging one worried Republican assemblyman from his hiding place under his desk to vote. Little wonder that Dewey came to refer to the state senate and assembly as “my legislature.” Of course, in equally skilled and determined hands, an office as powerful as Al Smith made New York’s governorship can be an instrument for ill as well as for good—and it was just such a dynamic governor who created the mess that is now crushing the Empire State. In his 15-year reign, Nelson Rockefeller conjured into being New York’s giant welfare state—and then left it to his successors to grapple with the problems that it posed. Derided by conservatives in his own GOP as a “New Deal Democrat in Republican clothing” when he won office in 1958, Rockefeller brought to government a grandiose—and ruinously costly—vision. Over nearly four full terms, he increased spending on the State University of New York tenfold, crafted the nation’s most lavish Medicaid program, and poured billions into giant construction projects, including the pharaonic Empire State Mall in Albany. The state’s budget skyrocketed more than fourfold to $8.7 billion in 1974 from $2 billion in 1958. To pay for all this, Rockefeller raised taxes in eight of his 15 budgets, abandoned pay-as-you-go financing of capital projects, and piled up $11 billion in debt, saddling his successor with $264 million a year in debt service. He used public authorities to raise and spend money free of the state’s own ballooning budget and outside the normal state bond processes. Cajoling, bullying, and horse-trading to get his way, Rockefeller earned the title “the one-man legislature.” Barely six months after Rocky resigned to take the nation’s vice presidency, one of his authorities, the Urban Development Corporation, defaulted on its bonds, sparking a near bankruptcy in New York City, then groaning under the twin fiscal burdens of Rockefeller’s state agenda and Mayor John Lindsay’s vast expansion of social programs. Sharp cutbacks in state and city workers and services ensued, and the tough-minded governor who took office in 1975, Hugh Carey, pushed through such needed reforms as prohibiting authorities from issuing bonds not backed by a specific funding source. Still, Rockefeller’s gigantic state apparatus had a momentum of its own, and Albany Republicans and Democrats alike had a stake in keeping it growing after the 1980s national boom provided fresh tax revenues. To rein in Rockefeller’s runaway government behemoth would have required sustained effort from more than one reform-minded governor. But after Carey, New York got instead two consecutive clunkers, Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, who for the past 22 years have allowed narrow but powerful special interests to run riot, making the Albany tax-and-spend machine careen ever faster. Strange that despite his national reputation for soaring, visionary rhetoric, Mario Cuomo didn’t know how to control his own Democratic caucus in Albany and quickly found legislative leaders dictating to him, wresting control of the budget process and presenting their own free-spending budget as a fait accompli. As the state slipped into recession in the late 1980s, Cuomo stood by and watched as the legislature raised taxes by more than $1 billion in each of three consecutive budgets—while the state’s economy crumbled, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the nation’s job losses during the recession that followed. When Cuomo claimed to be too busy to get involved in a contentious transit-funding issue, an exasperated New York City mayor Edward Koch sneered: “I mean, you have to be able to do more than chew gum.” On Cuomo’s watch, the state budget rocketed from $28 billion to $60 billion. Little wonder that Republican George Pataki trounced Cuomo in 1994 on a platform of cutting taxes and spending—which in his first year he began to accomplish, after installing a supporter as head of the GOP-controlled senate and threatening upstate assembly Democrats with tough reelection fights if they didn’t support his reform agenda. But when Pataki’s political godfather, U.S. senator Alfonse D’Amato, decided to push the party to the left in a misguided and unsuccessful effort to save his own job, he left Pataki high and dry, and emboldened the Democratic-controlled assembly to resist the governor’s agenda. Deflated, Pataki thereafter mostly drifted with the tax-and-spend flow.
Read & Discuss.

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