Andrew Cuomo is running for governor. Can you believe it? Who knew he was interested?
If it hadn't been for the fact that the Democratic Party has to nominate a candidate at its convention this week, Cuomo might have happily continued to pretend that he was just a humble Attorney General with no thoughts about higher office until Halloween.
After all, what's the advantage of being a declared candidate? It's not as if Cuomo needs to sell himself. According to the current polls, he's ridiculously far ahead of the Republican candidates: Rick Who Lost to Hillary Clinton, Steve From Long Island Who Used to Be a Democrat and Carl Who Has Fathered A Love Child and Calls an African Tribal Dance an "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal."
And once you're a candidate, people start asking you what you'd do to get the state out of its current $9 billion hole.
Before reporters had a chance to pose the question, Cuomo shipped them 224 pages worth of positions called "A New Agenda: Plan for Action." His press conferences, which had been miracles of evasion, usually conducted via conference call, can now become pop quizzes. You want to know about the budget? Ladies, gentlemen, please turn to chapter two.
The agenda is chock-full of very specific information about the problems. The out-of-control pensions. The education and Medicaid spending that outstrips virtually every other state. Not to mention the $9 billion hole in a budget that was supposed to be due April 1. And the even larger holes that will be popping up every year in the immediate future if something doesn't change.
And the solutions will required pain, the exact nature of which was ... vague. State government has to be "rightsized." Quality will not be sacrificed. Health care will be made more efficient.
The closest Cuomo comes to defining pain is a recommendation that state employees will have their salaries frozen for a year. These days, "frozen" is a friendly word, as in: not cut or eliminated.
Cuomo - or Cuomo's position people - rejected Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch's plan to close the current budget hole, a messy but doable combination of long-term budget reforms and short-term borrowing. Cuomo rightly says borrowing to pay current expenditures is bad. But he doesn't really explain what he'd do differently beyond that salary freeze. That's David Paterson's budget. Let him figure it out.
Cuomo's long-term plans are an interesting mix of the wonky (re-evaluate state "seat-time requirements" for public school programs), questionable (pass constitutional caps on spending and taxing that look a lot like the ones that have California in its current death spiral) and sensible.
The sensible ones are almost all on the same theme: kill the legislature. Let the governor take care of it.
Very few people who are familiar with the New York state could argue with the proposition that the less the legislators are allowed to do, the better. Certainly, they are not going to make any hard choices, or even modestly unpleasant ones, of their own volition. Many of Cuomo's suggestions, like cutting the number of state authorities, agencies and departments, have been tried by governors before, all of whom collapsed with exhaustion by the time the first two or three had been put out of their misery.
Cuomo has solved this problem by proposing that the governor be given the authority to do it on his own. Which would work, in the deeply unlikely event that the legislature agreed.
In the end, the big questions about Cuomo are going to be the same ones we had about the last Attorney General running for governor, Eliot Spitzer: does he have a decent plan and can he get the legislature to do it? (We did not have enough foresight to ask whether Spitzer planned to have hook-ups with hookers.)
Cuomo is far less wonky than Spitzer, so the chances that he'll engage the populace in a public discussion of seat-time requirements are low. Like Spitzer, he's running against Albany. Only in America can the son of a three-term governor who is himself serving as state attorney general portray himself as an outsider in state government.
Unlike Spitzer, Cuomo is calling on candidates for the legislature to sign an ethics pledge promising to vote for, among other desirable things, an independent commission to draw the boundaries during future redistricting.
For a legislature, that's like promising to let a stranger come in and redesign his house. Or his family. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has already said he won't go along.
So will Cuomo actually take on the most powerful man (currently) in Albany? Or gloss the whole thing over, making it clear this is just more election year hype.
We'll see. In the meantime, you've got 224 pages worth of promises to read.