New York Blues
In NY Politics, Business as Usual Beats Reform

New York has a budget, but nobody—except maybe the teachers unions—thinks it’s a good one. Governor Cuomo appears to have jettisoned key reform ideas to pass a ho-hum budget that largely preserves the status quo. The NYT reports on the budget’s passage:

A number of criminal justice reforms, developed by Mr. Cuomo after unarmed men died at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island, were dropped. So were plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, from 16, and to impose new sexual assault policies at colleges across the state.

Even a hallmark of Mr. Cuomo’s tenure as governor, fighting against burdensome property taxes, fizzled this time around: A tax credit he proposed was dumped from the budget, too.

Mr. Cuomo faced resistance from both sides of the aisle. The Republican-controlled State Senate doomed his plans to raise the minimum wage and to pass the Dream Act, which would allow tuition aid from the state for undocumented students, while the State Assembly, which Democrats control, blocked a tax credit for certain donations to schools and scholarship funds.

The NYT chalks this lame budget up to Cuomo’s determination to get it passed in time. He was willing to give up on any controversial items that would make the budget even a day late. But there’s more going on here. New York has long been one of the worst-governed states in the country. Its legislature is renowned for corruption; special interests rule in Albany. The state spends massively and collects huge volumes of tax revenue—but the services that it provides are less than impressive. Deep pension problems for state and local employees cloud the future.

There are lots of reasons for this sordid state of New York politics. One is the deep blue sentiment of many of the state’s voters, who like big government and don’t care about its costs or its long-term impact on the future of the state. Another is the entrenched corruption of the legislature.

There are also, however, structural reasons. New York City and its surrounding counties dominate the state politically and economically. But what New York City needs is very different from what Buffalo or Rochester or the blighted smaller cities and towns of the rest of the state need. The lack of state-wide media compounds this imbalance. The New York Times and the networks that operate out of Manhattan aren’t all that interested in New York state politics, or even in the state’s well-being. There’s very little sense of civic responsibility; neither the press nor the business elite in Manhattan thinks of its destiny and prosperity being in any way linked to what happens upstate.

When you add all these factors together—the corruption, the blue mindset, the structural imbalances, and the indifference of the Manhattan elite—you get a recipe for just the kind of terrible governance on display in the new state budget.

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