. . .Would You Believe, "Day Two?"
On the heels of a blowout victory, Atorney General and Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer prepares to take the helm as chief executive of the Empire State.
Spitzer's campaign theme, as echoed in his poignant TV spots, had been, "Day One, Everything Changes..."
We can certainly hope this to be true, of course, as the Spitzer team meanders literally across the street to the Capitol.
Still, we take those first steps -- and maybe the second and third -- cautiously, for, as we have come to learn, the more things change, the more they stay the same, especially in the stagnant, barely functional chambers of the New York State Legislature.
The wheels are still broken in Albany, and NY voters pretty much "stayed the course" on the homefront, opting to continue to ride along on the Legislature's flat, worn tires, leaving Spitzer and Company with a tough row to hoe as he gets ready to join those other two men in that now smokeless, but no less stale-aired room.
"Day one" may well change little, as an article appearing in The Economist shortly before the election so aptly points out, best intentions of Governor Spitzer to "change everything" aside. Then again, few things get done in a day. Rome, after all, wasn't built in a day, or so the old adage goes. And even the Almighty took seven. . .
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Mr Fixit's biggest test
Nov 2nd 2006 NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition
One place where the election is not in any doubt
The elections may be a time of high drama across America, but not in New York. Not only is Hillary Clinton a shoo-in for re-election to the Senate, but Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney-general, is leading his hapless Republican opponent, John Faso, by a gaping margin-at the last count, 71% to 22%. Mr Spitzer's challenge is not to win the governor's office; the challenge lies in what he must do once he gets there. As attorney-general he relentlessly tackled Wall Street's corporate malefactors. But that was a trifle compared with the fight that awaits him in Albany.
New York's finances are a mess. Debt per person is more than twice the national average, and the state faces budget gaps of almost $7 billion over the next two years. Mr Spitzer's first test will come quickly, as he must propose a budget by February 1st. Over the long term he must fix New York's biggest fiscal problem, its bloated Medicaid programme. It is America's costliest by far: New York spends $45 billion on Medicaid, 30% more than California, which has almost twice as many people. Mr Spitzer has ambitious plans to cut costs, from rooting out fraud to closing hospitals. But these changes will not come easily. A Wall Street billionaire was a much easier target than a nurse in Buffalo will be.
The new governor must also improve the state's failing schools. New York spends more on its students than any state except New Jersey, but has the third-lowest graduation rate in America. On top of the usual fights over reform, such as making it easier to set up independent "charter" schools, the new governor must settle a 13-year lawsuit that demands the state pump more cash into New York City's schools. Mr Spitzer promises to resolve the matter quickly, yet squabbling seems inevitable. He favours a solution that sends money to schools across the state and has suggested the city chip in as well-a proposal that has already raised the hackles of Michael Bloomberg, the city's mayor.
Then there is the dire problem of how to help upstate New York, which is poor and shrinking. Lawmakers have tried to revive the region by pouring cash into projects in so-called Empire Zones-an approach Mr Spitzer says has become "distorted by the political process". The area's economy will not improve until its business climate does. Mr Spitzer has proposed a mild property-tax cut and promised reforms to lower workers'-compensation costs, reduce electricity costs (now 63% above the national average) and streamline regulations.
Unfortunately, any reform will face the perennial log-jam in Albany. New York has become an example of state politics at its worst. In a damning new book, "Three Men in a Room", a former state senator, Seymour Lachman, describes how power is entrenched in the hands of the governor, the Senate majority leader (usually a Republican) and the Assembly speaker (usually a Democrat). These men often give their underlings just a few hours to review bills the size of phonebooks; lawmakers then vote as they are told, for fear of being denied aid for their districts.
The capital is a playground for special interests, with more lobbyists per legislator (18 to one) than any other state. Public authorities, appointed bodies that pay for projects by issuing state bonds, are to blame for most of New York's debt. No one even knows how many authorities exist, though there are said to be "at least 733" of them. Thanks to gerrymandering, an inept legislator, once he has been elected, is usually there for life.
Fixing this requires a bold leader. Mr Spitzer has audacity to spare. But as attorney-general he could act almost unilaterally. As governor he will have to compromise. The Spitzer campaign's favoured slogan is "Day one, everything changes". That is impossible. But he may nudge New York in the right direction.