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Day One approaches Spitzer administration will face an array of state reform challenges

Everything changes.

That's what Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer said would happen in Albany when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 1. It was both a promise and a warning. Here's to that.

To say that Spitzer has his work cut out for him is to underestimate the nature of the task he has set himself, but even before taking office, he has made a solid start. Only weeks after his overwhelming election, Spitzer announced a bracing set of ethics rules to govern his conduct and that of other executive branch officials.

Earlier this month, he laid down another marker, signaling lawmakers that he would support a comprehensive pay-raise package in exchange for comprehensive government reform, of the sort that Albany desperately needs.

Indeed, Spitzer was even more emphatic than that, declaring that he opposes raises "unless and until" lawmakers pass reforms in the areas of ethics, lobbying, elections, campaign finance and budgeting.

It was a list of many of Albany's most pressing internal problems, and Spitzer was right to link them to raises. Issues such as those, which prominently include Albany's partisan redistricting process, have insulated state legislators from the judgment of voters and significantly contributed to New York's status as the country's highest-taxed state.

Spitzer is right to focus first on those issues, because other important issues are symptomatic of lawmakers' isolation. They are the lake that feeds a river of dysfunction. Fix those problems, and future symptoms will be less likely to appear.

But those existing problems won't go away on their own. They also require the attention of Spitzer and state legislators. They include several of New York's laws regarding labor issues.

In particular, the state's workers' compensation system, the Taylor Law and the Wicks Law all cry out for reform. Employers in New York pay some of the nation's highest workers' comp premiums while injured workers get some of the lowest benefits. What's the point?

The Taylor Law, meanwhile, encourages municipalities and their unions to go to arbitration instead of negotiating fair contracts. It could be reformed to the benefit of both sides and taxpayers, as well.

The Wicks Law needlessly drives up the costs of public construction contracts by requiring multiple contractors. In any sensible state, it would be repealed.

Medicaid also remains a significant problem for local taxpayers, despite the welcome reform that passed last year. That change limited the future growth of the counties' liability for costs on the health care program, but it left untouched the existing expenses that are behind New Yorkers' exorbitant property tax bills.

These matters all require attention by the Legislature, which also needs to put its own houses in better operating condition. But these matters start with leadership from the governor's office. That's what Spitzer promised. Day One is almost here. Let's hope the ride is worth the price of admission.

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