Andrew M. Cuomo was supposed to be the governor who made a difference and so far he has. The annual state budget is any governor's primary responsibility and, with the state facing a $10 billion deficit, Cuomo led the way toward a tough-minded spending plan that closed the gap without raising taxes or increasing borrowing.
But much more remains on Cuomo's self-created agenda; more, in fact, than he can accomplish in a single legislative session. Still, time remains and, like cream, a few items rise to the top of the list. Here's what we would like to see him achieve before the Legislature adjourns in two months.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: The time to move on this is now, while Cuomo has maximum leverage. The economy remains weak and, as recent census figures show, New York continues to shed jobs, population and federal political clout. Taxes paid by New Yorkers are a primary culprit. Elected by an overwhelming margin, Cuomo can fairly assume that he is at or near his maximum influence. He will have the Republican Senate on his side, but will need to bring along a resistant Assembly. A property tax cap should be the governor's top goal. If it was the only other objective he achieved, the legislative session could be counted as successful.
INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING: With Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, weaseling out of his signed pledge -- so what is his promise really worth, then? -- to support independent redistricting this year, Cuomo has a steep hill to climb. As practiced in New York, redistricting is a cynically political affair, with lawmakers drawing their own lines to their own benefit, with little regard given to the integrity of communities. That creates a protective cocoon for incumbents, allowing them to pay greater attention to special interests who want favors, often at the expense of constituents whose threat to them has been diminished.
By some measures, this is a more urgent matter than even a property tax cap, since the ability to influence the drawing of political lines occurs only once a decade. The only reason to make it No. 2 is that Cuomo has a weapon: He promised last year to veto any redistricting plan based on political considerations. Assuming his promise is worth more than Skelos' -- and we believe it is -- that gives him, and New Yorkers, an edge.
UB 2020: Cuomo plans to hold a summit on this plan next month. He seems to understand its importance in helping the University at Buffalo reach its educational and research potential while simultaneously bolstering the Western New York economy. Legislation has already passed in the Senate; the problem is in the Assembly, which killed it last year and which, thus far, has shown no greater affection for it in 2011. This will test the new governor's leadership skills.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Cuomo has said that 80 percent of his time should be spent on bringing jobs and companies to the state and has invited New Yorkers to judge him on those efforts. We need to see how his regional economic development councils will work, which are critical components of his approach. This can't wait (see property tax cap, above).
ETHICS REFORM: This is a perennial in one of the country's most corrupt state governments. New Yorkers need clear, unambiguous disclosure laws on incomes of elected officials; prohibitions on elected officials doing business with the state; campaign finance laws with teeth; and more. Negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. Come on.
There is more for the governor to attend to: mandate relief; consolidations of agencies and localities; pension cost controls; gay marriage; gun laws; and more. All are important and all should remain on his agenda. For the next two months, though, Cuomo should focus on the critical factors. Those are the things that will restore a sense of honor and hope to a state that badly needs both.