I've just attended Governor Cuomo's road-show budget speech at Syracuse University, and I have four quick reactions, in no particular order.
First Reaction: 2016. I've seen a lot of pols speak in person, from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Bill Bradley to Mario Cuomo to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to Newt Gingrich to Elizabeth Dole. This guy is really good, and every time I see him in person he gets better. Complete command of substance, style, context, and audience. Better extemporaneously than Obama, I think. And he's one of the few speakers I've seen--of any kind--who understands how to effectively use PowerPoint. Ross Perot meets Bill Clinton?
If he maintains a solid record in New York and avoids any scandals--and ultimately gets married--his timing would be perfect in 2016. He can appeal to the Democratic core as well as craft a more moderate overall message for a general election. A Democrat making his early reputation as governor as a budget cutter could go far. Of course, for the resume he'll also need to accomplish something beyond getting the state's finances in order--a set of significant and lasting political reforms could be part of that--but this task is obviously job number one.
Second Reaction: Although he ran a reform-focused campaign, some of his harsh rhetoric about the Legislature currently in place could come back to bite him. It makes for some good one-liners, but an advisor might suggest he tone it down a tad. It's one thing to make a strong argument for budget cutting and reforming the overall approach to state spending (and some of the biggest state programs), and to hold up the long-standing political structure in Albany as a source of the problem; it's another to go after the sitting legislative leaders in the way that he did. Comparing their approach toward spending to that of his three teenage girls is likely to rankle. Some might say for heaven's sake, rankle away, but governance must in the end be cooperative in order to be functional--an observation which was in fact another theme of his speech.
Third Reaction: There's an apparent contradiction in his case that needs to be explained better. On the one hand, Cuomo repeatedly located much of the blame for our high taxes and spending in the over-influence of "corporations and special interests" over the years, and at one point cited a "permanent government," not of Democrats or Republicans, but of those same corporations and special interests. Yet on the other hand he sketched out a cycle of state government policies in which taxes are too high, businesses and individual citizens (presumably of higher incomes) leave, prompting the need to further raise taxes, and in turn causing more businesses and citizens to leave, and so on. We need to make New York more business friendly, the governor tells us. Both arguments are plausible, but if corporate interests have been driving state government, then have they also been committing slow suicide? Or is it just some "special interests" that have been the real problem?
Fourth Reaction: Related in some way to Reaction #3, there was no mention whatsoever of the "millionaire tax," despite the fact that he directly took on the arguments about cutting Medicaid and education. I was surprised that since he didn't soft-pedal the latter issue he wouldn't also address the former. Returning to Reaction #1, he might have been gauging the audience.
In a later post I will return to a point I've made in the past about the level of government spending in New York, which fits with the governor's argument about spending levels versus performance.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
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