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Amy Traub

We Get a Governor Now?

Listening to Governor Spitzer's State of the State speech today, I was reminded of a story.

After New York's most recent round of redistricting, a state senator found himself with a substantial new neighborhood suddenly included in the boundaries of his district. The area had previously been represented by another senator who severely neglected that part of the district. No one realized how severely until the newly redistricted legislator began campaigning in the streets, telling residents he would like to be their state senator. The response from one would-be constituent: "We get a state senator now?"

That's how I felt listening to the State of the State... We get a governor now?

Eliot Spitzer laid out a bold and far-reaching reform agenda in his speech, stretching from smaller class sizes to lobbying reform to updating the law on where new power plants can be built. But he tied these disparate issues together with an inspiring vision of the common good; "One New York" as he put it, in which we all rise and fall together.

I may not agree with everything Governor Spitzer outlined: I am wary of lifting the cap on charter schools, for example, and would have liked to hear more about strengthening the city's rent stabilization laws. I fear that when the governor talks about making tough choices and having to say "no" to state budget requests, some projects I think are important will see cuts or fall by the wayside. But I am confident that Governor Spitzer's overarching vision of the common good will steer him, and the state, generally in the right direction.

In the first place, I like how the Governor started with a broad plan of government reform: campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, redistricting reform, judicial reform, budget reform and public authorities reform. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy does not primarily see itself as a "good government" group, but as we saw in our New York State Legislative Scorecard, Albany dysfunction has very real policy consequences for middle-class New Yorkers. As the governor acknowledges, it won't be easy, but these procedural reforms are largely necessary to realize substantive progress in the state.

I was especially pleased to hear Governor Spitzer echoing the successful progressive policies presented in DMI's Marketplace of Ideas series, from universal access to pre-school (a hit in Oklahoma, as we learned from State Senator Penny Williams) to using the state's bargaining power to make prescription drugs more affordable (successful in Maine, according to State Rep. Sharon Treat).

I could go on and on: I loved the Governor's ambition to provide health insurance immediately to all New York's children; his commitment to reduce property taxes in a way that most serves squeezed middle-class families; the pledge for more education funding coupled with an insistence that school districts adopt policies that work.

Albany's stagnation has a way of beating down the dreams of reformers, but the governor's pace-setting record as attorney general shows that if anyone can set the state on the right track, he can do it. It's going to be an exciting four years. We get a governor now.

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Posted at 3:59 PM, Jan 03, 2007 in Cities | Democracy | Drum Major Institute | Economic Opportunity | Education | Employment | Government Accountability | Governmental Reform | Health Care | Housing | Middle-class squeeze | New York | Politics | Progressive Agenda
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