Albany Times Union Editorial Response to the State of the State

Editorial: State of N.Y.: Incomplete

Published 8:45 pm, Wednesday, January 9, 2013
The governor’s big plans for the future don’t fully deal with the present.
Schools and local governments have serious needs in the here and now.
If we had just two words for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vision for the state in 2013, they would be
exciting and disappointing. The program he laid out in Wednesday’s State of the State address
was ambitious and progressive. But it barely acknowledged the challenges facing schools and
local governments just trying to do their jobs.
If the time he devoted to topics in his speech is any indication, the governor seemed to have put
more creative energy into a whitewater rafting trip with his political colleagues than he did into
helping school boards and communities deal with the grave financial challenges many of them
face. We can only hope that his upcoming budget will demonstrate more attention to this
bread-and-butter problem.

We appreciate that the governor wants to be more than a caretaker getting New York through
what are still challenging, post-recessionary times.  Certainly Mr. Cuomo offered some laudable and smart ideas — to keep advancing the state’s growing status as a high tech powerhouse, for example, with the creation of an energy czar and a focus on electric cars and alternative energy, along with training and public education that is better matched to the job market. He also wants to encourage counties to think more about economic development on a regional basis, and to beef up marketing for New York made products.

And his education agenda was one of hope: more time for children in school; an expansion of
full day pre-kindergarten starting with high needs districts; incentives for top teachers; and, in
distressed communities, reconfiguring schools to be centers of the community that offer
education, health care, nutrition counseling and other services. For too long, schools and
teachers have shouldered too much of the blame for poor student performance. The governor’s
plan shows he recognizes that teachers alone can’t solve all the other problems kids in poor,
high-needs districts bring to school with them.
But all these new things are expensive. What about the fact that, particularly under the state
aid cuts and property tax cap the state has enacted in recent years, many school districts and
local governments are draining surpluses and soon won’t be able to afford to do even what
they’re doing now?

Mr. Cuomo’s answer? A “Financial Restructuring Assistance Program,” run by public and
private advisers, which will be available to advise counties, cities, towns and villages how to
restructure their finances. If you were watching his speech and blinked, you would have
missed it.
That’s it? What happened to reforming or paying for the unfunded mandates the state imposes
on governments? What about aid some may need just to stay afloat?
And not a word about the financial straits school districts are in? What about the state’s nowforgotten promise to provide enough funds so that every child receives the sound, basic
education required under its constitution?

Perhaps Mr. Cuomo will address these matters in his budget. Then again, maybe he believes, in
the tradition of supply side enthusiasts, that modest tax cuts and putting schools and local
governments on a forced diet will work some kind of economic magic. Maybe he thinks that all
his initiatives will so quickly invigorate the state’s economy that enough business, jobs and tax
revenue will result that he won’t need to confront these issues.

Or maybe he lost a page or two from the speech.
Whatever the case, Mr. Cuomo’s agenda, undeniably large in many ways, is incomplete.
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