Monday, May 24, 2010

Fix Albany, The Sequel

Can Al Gore Bring The Green (as in $$$$) Back To New York?

Call it Fix Albany, Redux or shades of Al Smith. Andrew Cuomo has entered the race for Governor -- suprise, suprise -- and unvieled a plan (in 200 pages --The New NY Agenda -- and a video) to bring the Empire State back from the brink and into prosperity.

Eliminate the bureaucracy. Revamp State, county and local government. Can the hundreds of public authorities and local fiefdoms that, quite literally, suck the State's coffers, and the taxpayer's bank accounts, dry.

Have we heard all -- or much -- of this before? Sound familiar, ala Tom Suozzi's anemic Fix Albany campaign?

Is it possible that Andrew, Son of Mario, with a bit of help from the inventor of the Internet and Noble Prize winning environmentalist Al Gore can greenify old New York?

And do New Yorkers have the will to step out of antiquity and into the future, bureaucracy busting from the myriad local school district to the mired public authorities, reforming a system that drives cost up, makes spending inevitable, and cutting impossible?

If only he could, and we would, make it so, and without establishing yet another commission to study and report!
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From The New York Times:
Cuomo to Propose Eliminating Many State Agencies

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo will seek to eliminate 20 percent of New York’s agencies, commissions, authorities and other bodies if he is elected governor, according to a campaign report obtained by The New York Times as he prepares to announce his candidacy.

Mr. Cuomo’s report said his plan was aimed at carrying out the most ambitious restructuring of state government since 1919, when Gov. Alfred E. Smith undertook a similarly broad restructuring. The plan would take on what is arguably the most antiquated governing structure in the nation.

The attorney general has asked Al Gore to play a role in the effort, and he also hopes to recruit a number of business leaders. Mr. Cuomo, who served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration, played a significant role in Mr. Gore’s efforts to reinvent the federal government.

“I hope that he is elected governor and that these proposals have the chance to be enacted,” Mr. Gore said in an e-mail message. “As to my role, I would love to have the opportunity to offer my ideas.”

“With states getting squeezed the way they are with budget cuts and shrinking revenues, efforts like this are more important than ever,” he added. “We really do need new models of delivering high-quality services.”

Mr. Cuomo proposes creating a Spending and Government Efficiency Commission with authority to overhaul the more than 1,000 state agencies.

He would also seek legislative authority for the governor to “eliminate, transfer and consolidate state agencies without further legislative approval,” according to the document. Such power would be crucial to the success of the plan, but lawmakers are unlikely to grant it without a fight.

Legislative approval is currently required to eliminate any state agency or public authority.

Mr. Cuomo’s campaign declined to comment on his plan. But he will refer to it when he formally announces his candidacy, according to a person with knowledge of his planned remarks, who insisted on anonymity to speak before the campaign officially starts.

The attorney general, this person said, is expected to emphasize in his remarks that “the state is functionally bankrupt,” and that just as bankrupt corporations are restructured, the state should be too.

Mr. Cuomo frequently talks about his efforts as secretary to consolidate the housing agency, though an analysis by The Times in 2002, during his first run for governor, found that he had a mixed record of success in overhauling the department. Mr. Gore said he and Mr. Cuomo “worked very closely together,” and he cited several successful initiatives undertaken by Mr. Cuomo at the housing agency.

“In some areas,” Mr. Gore said, “the time to process home-insurance claims dropped from more than a month to a matter of days.”

There is no disputing the byzantine nature of New York’s government. Robert A. Caro’s 1974 biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” chronicled the rise and expansion of the state’s largely autonomous system of public authorities, entities like the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. These bodies are responsible for the bulk of New York’s debt, and they control most of the state’s infrastructure.

But even state agencies, which are controlled by the governor’s office, have become Rube Goldberg-like bureaucracies. Mr. Cuomo’s report notes that the Health Department has had at least 87 administrative subgroups imposed upon it by legislation over the years, including 46 councils, 17 boards, 6 institutes, 6 committees, 5 facilities, 2 task forces, 2 offices, 2 advisory panels and a work group. One entity is called the Task Force on Health Effects of Toll Plaza Air Quality in New York City.

“It was politically easy to create new agencies and difficult to abolish old ones, even when their functions had all but evaporated,” the report says.

Citing another example of bureaucracy run amok, the report notes that under state law, the executive branch has been limited to 20 departments. As a result, the Executive Department has become a catchall for a wide swath of bureaucracy, including the Budget Division, the Civil Defense Commission and the Empire State Plaza Art Commission. In all, 75 agencies are stuffed into the department.

The report also builds on Mr. Cuomo’s signature legislative achievement during his tenure as attorney general: the passage of a bill last year that makes it easier to cut or consolidate layers of local government across the state. As governor, the report says, Mr. Cuomo would create grants that would allow residents to pay for studies to examine potential mergers of local government bodies. And he would seek to standardize the election cycles of local governments to increase turnout.

His report also raises an alarm about a dearth of young, skilled employees in state government. Only 14 percent of state workers are under 35, and the report says baby boomers are in the midst of a “retirement tsunami.” Mr. Cuomo proposes creating a scholarship program for undergraduate and graduate students in certain fields who agree to commit to three years of state service after they graduate.
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The Plan from Andrew Cuomo on Vimeo.

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