The Agenda

Greg David on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)

I appreciated Greg David’s judicious take on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has a reasonable claim to being the most popular governor in the United States:

New York’s total state and local tax burden ranks as the worst in the country; New York, New Jersey and Connecticut rotate where they fall in the top three spots. New York’s unionization rate is by far the highest in the country, at 24.1%, and it’s not because of the private sector. The percent of public sector workers unionized in New York is the by far the highest in the country. And, yes, Mr. Cuomo kept in place an income tax surcharge on the wealthy that would have expired Dec. 31, even if he took a couple of basis points off the rate and reduced the number of those who pay it.

That is, the political environment in New York state is not exactly friendly to efforts to reform the terms of public employment. Other states that have been more aggressive in their reform efforts, like Indiana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, are quite different:

No, Andrew Cuomo is not Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has attacked and limited the power of public sector workers. He’s not Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose state has passed a right-to-work law. He’s not Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose education reforms have completely remade education in the state.

But then he’s not governor of Wisconsin, where hard times for manufacturing have alienated union members in the private sectors from those with government jobs; or Indiana, where union membership is only 10%; or Louisiana, where the devastation of Hurricane Katrina has created a public consensus for radical reforms.

With this in mind, Gov. Cuomo’s modest but real achievements — “capping property taxes, keeping a tight rein on the state budget, repeatedly taking on the public sector unions over wages and pensions, overhauling Medicaid and more” — are impressive. Indeed, when we compare Cuomo’s tenure to that of George Pataki, the first post-Rockefeller Republican governor to have won office on a commitment to restraint taxes and spending, one is tempted to conclude that only a Democrat with firm root in the party could have achieved such a feat. Pataki managed to secure reelection by currying favor with powerful public sector unions, a process that was greatly facilitated by surging tax revenues generated by a booming financial sector.

The problem, however, is that as admirable as Gov. Cuomo’s half-measures might be, they’re almost certainly not enough to prepare New York state for a more competitive global environment and an era in which rent extraction from the financial sector will accordingly grow more difficult. Yet his half-measures might be the best we can get, even with a crusading conservative in office. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s accomplishments, to anticipate one objection, depend in large part on the extraordinary power the Garden State grants its chief executive.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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