Blair Horner: Previewing The 2015 Legislative Session

Jan 19, 2015


This week, Governor Cuomo unveils his plans for the 2015 legislative session.  The State of the State allows the executive a unique opportunity to command public attention and to mobilize support for his proposals, as well as to kick off the legislative session.

Typically, a State of the State address in the first year of any Administration focuses on the need for changes and reforms.  As the governor over time comes to represent the status quo, his or her rhetoric changes and the State of the State becomes a vehicle to extol the achievements of the Administration and to build on the image the governor is hoping to project.

There is no reason to expect the State of the State 2015 to be different. As the governor starts his second term, he will increasingly want to highlight his successes as well as the challenges ahead.

He struck that tone in his inaugural speech.  Much of his speech focused on the achievements of the first term.

The governor highlighted what he viewed as his biggest accomplishments:  job creation, deficit reduction, and advances in providing health insurance coverage to the uninsured.  He argued that New York’s public officials put New York first and politics second.  He argued that the approach in Albany stands in stark contrast to the way politics works in the nation’s capital.

The governor laid out a series of issues from tackling the problems of the upstate economy to the need for an increase in the minimum wage.  He touched on climate change, Ebola, and terrorism.

He spent most of his speech on the need to change the state’s education system and the need to bolster public confidence in the justice system.

And no doubt, there are huge issues facing Albany.  For example, the state has to figure out how to raise tens of billions of dollars to fund projects for roads, bridges, and mass transit systems.  Another example is the expiration of the New York City rent control program – a program which helps keep the city affordable for renters.  Will the governor and the legislature agree to extend the program?

But in another critical area, the governor offered only a fleeting reference -- the need for more ethics reform.

The amount of time that the governor discusses reforms to change Albany's politics has reduced over the three years of his State of the State addresses.  What was once a central part of his message was reduced to a couple of paragraphs in his 2014 address.

Yet, Albany’s problems have remained, despite what the governor discusses in his messages.  His agreements on ethics and redistricting reforms have been, at best, insignificant -- at worst opportunities that were squandered.

Lawmakers are still getting indicted, are still involved in scandals.  The governor’s office itself is now operating under a cloud as the U.S. Attorney’s office examines the governor’s deal to shutter his Moreland Commission Investigating Public Corruption as part of a budget agreement in 2014.

Moreover, making decisions in secret is still Albany's preferred method of policymaking.  Well-connected lobbyists and big money donors still reign supreme over the public interest.

In short, Albany -- while perhaps more efficient -- hasn't changed much.

With both the State of the State message and the introduction of the governor's proposed budget later this month, voters will get the first tangible evidence of whether Albany is really trying to change its ways, or if changes are more rhetorical than real.

Here’s hoping that the apparent rhetorical reluctance to put ethics reform at the top of the governor’s legislative agenda does not reflect a lack of interest on his part to advance meaningful measures to reform Albany.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

 

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