In the budget proposal Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled Feb. 1, he and his team show some much-needed tough love to New York's public sector. It's the kind of thing his interim, unelected predecessor, Gov. David Paterson, tried to pull off but couldn't.
Gov. Cuomo seems to have much more traction, but time will tell. It helps him that Gov. Paterson broke trail and made a few mistakes to learn from. It helps that Gov. Eliot Spitzer did, too. It helps that Cuomo's election opponent, Carl Paladino, threatened to do much more damage to the Albany establishment. That gives Gov. Cuomo the political leverage to use his populism to full effect and roll out some major cuts and reforms. If they stick, it will be a new era for New York government.
In rejecting the automatic annual hikes for schools and Medicaid, this budget shows Gov. Cuomo's team is serious about budgeting for success rather than status quo. The Legislature should heed his call to change the laws that guarantee this built-in cost inflation.
This budget also shows Gov. Cuomo is serious about cutting state workers' pay and benefits, which are more generous than that of their counterparts in the private sector. Unions' contracts are up, and if they don't make sacrifices, he says he'll lay off thousands of workers. Those layoffs would be terrible, no doubt, but workers are part of an entire state that is hurting. That choice needs to be put squarely before public-employee unions: Will you lower the numbers in your paychecks or the numbers in your work force? Sadly, the people just can't afford to keep the work force at its current level. Teachers in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake recognized that reality last year when they made concessions to ease tax hikes.
Public employee unions argue that they are being asked to give while there are no new taxes on the richest New Yorkers, who are doing better than the rest of us right now. This is ripe for debate in the Legislature, but regardless, state employees are overdue for sacrifices. No one gets raises all the time; these things must ebb and flow. If state workers make a few concessions - kind of like the sacrifices taxpayers have been making to pay them - the state could, conceivably, pull out of this mess faster and stronger than other states.
That's the hope Gov. Cuomo is selling. In general, it seems reasonable and worth shooting for.
Look for more editorials about the state budget next week.