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Spitzer chalks up victories, setbacks Critics claim governor undermines potential by willingness to compromise

Without doubt, this state has a governor fully engaged in the business of running a government that employs more workers than Microsoft, Apple and Intel combined.

But with Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer hitting the 100-day mark today as the state's chief executive officer, his critics and allies question whether, to strike deals quickly, he has been willing to settle for less.

"He's clearly going for quick, attainable wins, and he's compromising in that process," said Rachel Leon, director of New York Common Cause. "He has to do that to some extent, but maybe he's doing it too fast, and if he fought it out in public, he'd get a better process and hopefully a better win eventually."

Spitzer, though, gives his early days high marks.

"I'm very pleased with where we are," he said in an interview.

The governor, a Democrat, barnstormed into office Jan. 1, promising to turn Albany upside down, attack powerful special interests accustomed to the status quo and bring a new energy that Republicans and Democrats say the office had lacked in the past decade.

Then he hit a bump that has given many governors before him a reality check: the State Legislature.

First, the governor's Democratic allies in the Assembly ignored him by naming one of their own as state comptroller.

A month later, Republicans in the Senate, with a wink from some members of the Assembly, beat down a host of Spitzer's budget proposals.

"He learned that there's a legislative branch in Albany, not just the governor," said State Sen. Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, who won a budget battle to provide more money for suburban school districts.

"There isn't any question that the governor's people didn't really understand the process. You just can't say 'we're going to do it this way.' It doesn't work like that," added Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew.

But Spitzer maintains that legislators who contended he did not take their role seriously enough are "wrong on every front."

He also dismisses talk that his compromises on the budget weakened him or his fiscal plans.

"I could not be happier," he said of the budget.

The governor said he knew lawmakers would fight his ideas, and he was prepared for the entanglements.

"Their job is to make my job difficult, and my job is to get the job done," he said.

The governor says his accomplishments are many.

He enacted a budget -- almost on time -- with record aid increases for public schools, especially high-needs districts like Buffalo, and a $1.3 billion property tax rebate program, while getting $1 billion in Medicaid savings.

He quickly pushed through measures to improve the process for crafting the state budget and another to create new ethics requirements for state employees.

Spitzer also got a deal to raise workers' compensation rates for injured workers while providing insurance premium cuts for businesses and won passage of a law to keep the most dangerous of convicted sex offenders confined in mental facilities when their prison terms end.

He has renewed emphasis on assisting the upstate economy, creating a co-chairmanship position of the state's economic development agency to focus solely on upstate matters.

Spitzer has attracted people with deep credentials -- although some have little or no specific state government experience -- to several positions.

But most of his accomplishments come with an asterisk.

The ethics bill excluded the Legislature from many of its restrictions and took an independent agency -- the state lobbying commission -- that reform groups say was doing a good job and folded it into a larger ethics agency that will be under Spitzer's control.

Agreement was reached in January on the highly touted new law to provide more openness in the budget process. But less than two months later, Spitzer and legislative leaders took all fiscal matters behind closed doors in what reform groups called one of the most secretive budget deals in memory.

On the fiscal front, the budget increases spending at three times the inflation rate, and debt rises.

The new governor lost a few priorities, including a tax break for parents with children in private school and an expansion of the bottle bill, his first big environmental item.

The new funding formula to provide more money for high-poverty schools was undermined in its first test, as the Legislature added more than $400 million, much of it to suburban districts. Many of these wealthier districts ended up getting greater aid increases than lower income districts.

The governor acknowledged unfinished tasks for this session, including changing a law that drives up the cost of public construction projects.

Changes in the state's incumbent-friendly campaign finance system, a measure to speed up site approval for new power plants and pay increases for the state's judges also are under consideration.

Spitzer's allies say he has brought a new energy to state government.

"He was willing to use all the political capital he had to make some real changes," said Denis Hughes, president of the state AFL-CIO. "We really haven't seen that type of forcefulness or understanding of a political position in a very long time."

Kenneth Adams, president of the Business Council of New York State, said Spitzer has begun assisting the upstate economy by getting such deals as the workers' compensation package.

"From Day One, clearly he made the commitment to rebuilding the upstate economy. And in the first 100 days, he has taken some dramatic steps to fulfilling that goal," said Adams, who cited the appointment of an upstate economic czar and the deal to bring Bass Pro to Buffalo as among his early accomplishments.

Spitzer says his first 100 days have been "a wild but ultimately very successful ride."

"There's no question I bring to the table a more determined attitude than perhaps has been here in the past," he said. "Though I'm not one to make the judgment call, Albany is indeed a different place now than it was a year ago."

But one lawmaker, speaking privately, said Spitzer came into office thinking he was Superman.

"Now Superman has realized there's a lot of kryptonite in Albany," the lawmaker said.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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