Andrew Cuomo stood baying at the moon in Albany Tuesday, and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon.
New York’s leather-lunged governor folded his annual budget message into his State of the State Address, belting it out to the first stable Democratic-controlled Legislature in 30 years — along with the gaggle of opportunity-seekers, advantage-takers and uncategorized hangers-on always found at such events.
Cuomo often confuses high vocal volume with seriousness of purpose — to say nothing of actual statesmanship — and Tuesday was just another ration of more-of-the-same.
That is, a cacophonous fog of progressive platitudes, florid rhetoric and seriously conflicted objectives. Not that it wasn’t well-received.
The applause was loud and sustained. His audience clearly saw many opportunities in the speech — billions in new spending and re-ordered, highly palatable left-wing policy priorities — and seemed well-motivated to take them.
And anybody expecting the pain that always accompanies serious reform surely was disappointed — suggesting that for all his promises of a new day, the sophisticates he was addressing knew better.
Regarding policy, Cuomo:
- Promised carloads of new cash for MTA and other infrastructure renewal, but specifically ruled out the work-rule reforms that would ensure true value for the money. Indeed, he promised to extend those rules to currently exempt reconstruction projects statewide — something he called part of a “progressive labor-union agenda.”
- Said he’ll shower new money on the state’s public schools — never mind that per-pupil spending in New York is the highest in America — while asking nothing in the way of teacher-evaluation reforms or student testing-regimen overhauls.
- Pledged to continue New York’s reign as the nation’s premier per-patient public-health spender — with not a peep about changes that would anger the unions that so vigorously supported him through last fall’s reelection campaign.
All in all, if that’s not big-ticket business-as-usual, there’s no such thing.
As for new policy prescriptions, Cuomo:
- Proposed escalating the state’s efforts to combat opioid abuse without saying a word about more vigorous anti-drug law enforcement efforts, and he actually bragged about closing prisons. He also wants to legalize marijuana on the grounds that many New Yorkers don’t obey current laws anyway. Maybe there’s a case for that, though presumably, the rationale would eventually apply to the state’s opioid-consuming community and its suppliers. (Maybe more on that in next year’s message?)
- Went on at length about New York City-centric issues, including congestion-pricing — perhaps another idea whose time has come — but didn’t offer much in the way of details. Maybe that’s because it’s always been unacceptable to outer-borough lawmakers — and, after all, there is newly found legislative comity to be preserved.
- And touched in passing on a range of hot-button progressive issues — the so-called Dream Act, immigration in general, abortion rights and so-on — predictably offering nothing that deviated from left-wing received wisdom.
It wasn’t until deep into the address that he got around to “ethics reform” and, surprisingly, his nose didn’t grow.
Cuomo termed New York’s ethics turmoil over the past several years “a disappointment” — it surely must have been — but from his words no one would guess that his administration was the star about which the scandals revolved.
Just let it be noted that his own principal adviser (and close family friend) is headed for prison along with other administration honchos; that federal gumshoes are still probing his administration — and that his own campaign fund-raisers have harvested tens of millions from sources that he now wants to shut down.
If there were a hypocrisy hall of fame, he’d be in it.
The late Gov. Mario Cuomo always termed his annual official address the poetry of government, and his budgets its prose. It was a gentle distinction, which he burnished to good, sometimes charming, effect.
Andrew Cuomo, who mixed the messages Tuesday, simply doesn’t have the command of rhetoric to pull that off.
Tuesday he came, he shouted and he persuaded very few. The already convinced loved it. Again, they saw opportunities.
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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