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'Agenda' details reforms Group's proposals give governor-elect a package to transform state's finances

Just in time for the arrival of a reform-minded governor, an influential watchdog group has issued a solid report that should help focus the attention of state leaders on three crucial areas for fiscal reform.

"The Armonk Agenda" was recently issued by the Citizens Budget Commission, which based the report on the results of an April conference in the downstate city of Armonk. The conference included 150 civic, government, business and labor leaders as well as academics, policy experts and editorial writers.

The result was a list of 12 "high-priority" steps equally divided among three broad areas of concern: lowering local taxes; lowering and better managing state debt; and more accountable and transparent annual state budgets.

(The full report is available on the commission's Web site, www.cbcny.org.)

All of the recommendations are on target. They include reducing counties' state-mandated Medicaid costs, subjecting borrowing by public authorities to more rigorous review and building more transparency into state and authority budgets.

Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer ran for office pledging to reform the state, and we hope he will take these recommendations to heart. If adopted, they could help lead to a turn-around in this state's long-term prospects, and ease the burden that New Yorkers are planning to place on their children and grandchildren.

But what the Armonk Agenda does not take into account is the reason these reforms have become necessary: State legislators have made an electoral fortress of the state Capitol, shielding themselves from the wrath of voters while putting out a welcome mat to the monied interests that want to influence state policy.

The price is a broken, expensive state. Worse, it is that way on purpose. Debt and taxes are high, and budgets are riddles within riddles because lawmakers like them that way, or at least they don't care that they are. Reforming the state's fiscal practices will be a more sure thing if Albany's reformers first tear down the ramparts that make it so easy for legislators to snub the voters who put them in office.

That's a long-term job, though, and it would be unwise to let other reforms await the day that Albany discovers the advantages of democracy. Fiscal reform is urgent in a state that burdens its residents with the nation's highest taxes and its second-highest debt load, soon to hit $50 billion.

We hope Spitzer will undertake these reforms promptly and enthusiastically, but with a clear understanding that they are the symptoms of an underlying ailment. New York needs to take that cure, as well.

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