A newly elected governor just persuaded his dysfunctional state legislature to close a multi-billion-dollar deficit, keep taxes in check, and limit annual Medicaid spending. Surely, these must be the misdeeds of stone-hearted Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s GOP chief executive, or that ax-wielding alumnus of the Gingrich Congress, Governor John Kasich (R., Ohio).
Actually, these and other reforms are the handiwork of none other than Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor. This son of liberal icon and former New York governor Mario Cuomo was President Clinton’s Housing secretary and once belonged by marriage to the Kennedy family.
Despite these sterling liberal credentials, Cuomo’s performance thus far has advanced the cause of limited government in the Empire State far more than did his past three predecessors — the hapless David Paterson, the pantsless Eliot Spitzer, and the clueless Republican, George Elmer Pataki.
“You can’t spend more money than you make,” Cuomo said on February 5, setting a tone for his administration. “There are only two groups of people who don’t understand this. No. 1 is the leadership of the New York State legislature. No. 2 are my daughters.”
Cuomo subsequently lived up to those encouraging words:
•Cuomo ignored the bellyaching of left-wing class warriors and demanded the expiration of a so-called “millionaire’s tax” that boosted the 6.85 percent income-tax rate to 7.85 percent for singles earning as little as $200,000 and 8.97 percent for those making at least $500,000.
“The old way of solving the problem was continuing to raise taxes on people, and we just can’t do that anymore,” Cuomo told the New York Post. “The answer is going to have to be that we’re going to have to reduce government spending.”
•And reduce spending Cuomo did. His $132.5 billion budget is $3.4 billion lower than last year’s, an honest 2.5 percent cut.
•Cuomo killed the spending formulae that were “marbleized throughout New York State laws,” as he put it. They automatically boosted annual Medicaid and education expenditures, demanding 13 percent hikes in those programs this year. Instead, Cuomo got Democrats and even the hospital-workers union to accept a 4 percent yearly spending cap on Medicaid and education.
•Scrapping these formulae cut this year’s deficit by $10 billion and next year’s by $13 billion, and set spending growth on a flatter trajectory.
•Cuomo secured permission to cut state agencies by 20 percent, close up to six prisons, and merge the state banking and finance departments, among other agencies.
•The budget lets Cuomo squeeze $450 million in concessions from unions. If they balk, he may sack 10,000 government workers.
•Cuomo’s proposed ceiling on medical-malpractice awards perished in negotiations, as did his wish for a 2 percent cap on property-tax hikes. Still, he accomplished all of this without increasing state borrowing.
The New York Post reacted with a two-word headline: “PIGS FLY.”
Cuomo’s seriousness jarringly contrasts with Washington, D.C., where unseriousness is a governing philosophy.
Under Cuomo’s leadership, Albany passed its first on-time budget in five years.
Under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s reign, conversely, last year’s Democratic Congress failed to adopt a budget. Democrats and Republicans now finance the federal government with two- and three-week continuing resolutions — the fiscal equivalent of Scotch tape and shoelaces.
Congressional Republican leaders have attacked the federal budget with a butter knife, rather than a meat cleaver. They have offered a mere $61 billion budget reduction, not the $100 billion they promised to slice from this year’s budget. They largely have ignored Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R., Okla.) discovery of $82.4 billion in abandoned accounts that have grown moldy in federal coffers since at least 2005. Rep. David Schweikert’s (R., Ariz.) Forgotten Funds Act would channel these dormant dollars into deficit reduction.
Also, the Government Accountability Office recently concluded that Washington really is a giant Department of Redundancy Department. It identified perhaps $100 billion in overlapping projects, such as 47 job-training programs, 82 teacher-quality initiatives, and 2,100 federal data centers. Regardless, Republicans have failed to squeeze at least another $39 billion from this Mt. Whitney of waste to keep a key promise that helped them secure the House of Representatives last November.
Even less inspiring, Democrats are trimming the budget with an emery board. The $6 billion they agreed to cut in March shrank 100 percent of Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget way, way down to 99.84 percent of the original. Cuomo’s $10 billion state-budget cut is one-and-a-half times what Washington Democrats previously agreed to remove from the entire federal budget.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada moaned that “mean-spirited” Republicans would end federal subsidies for Elko, Nevada’s Cowboy Poetry Festival. Reid argued on the Senate floor on March 8 that, absent federal funding, “the tens of thousands of people who come there every year, would not exist.” This is frightfully close to Nero fiddling amid the flames.
Obama, Reid, and Washington’s other kindergartners should ride Amtrak to Albany and let an adult named Andrew Cuomo show them how it’s done.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.