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Editorial: As Cuomo unveils priorities, the path is clear for needed reforms

Now that the Democratic Party has control of both houses of the State Legislature, it will be tempting for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to try to overstuff his legislative agenda with something for everyone.

Trying to boil the ocean is never a sound strategy. The governor needs to keep his priorities focused on a few pillars of reform, ones that are publicly useful and politically achievable thanks to the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

Cuomo is to deliver his budget proposals Tuesday in his State of the State address.

Among the key priorities should be tougher ethics laws, setting sensible limits on campaign contributions, making elections more democratic and stemming the state’s population loss by making it more affordable to live and do business here.

The Senate and Assembly will get off to a running start Monday by passing a multibill package that makes it easier to vote in New York. They are also including an overdue ethics provision: ending the LLC loophole, which permitted limited liability companies to get around annual political contribution limits.

New York’s rates of voter participation have been embarrassingly low. Thankfully, that should change when the new laws take effect. Among the new features: Early voting at polling sites; preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds; easier use of absentee balloting, and holding state and federal primaries on the same day, likely in June.

Increasing democratic participation is a worthy goal. Politicians should expect to win elections by winning the hearts and minds of voters, not by tamping down turnout.

It will be good riddance to the LLC loophole, which let wealthy interests donate virtually unlimited amounts of money, giving rise to well-founded suspicions that donors were trying to buy influence.

Speaking of donors, the state can’t afford to keep allowing individuals and companies seeking state contracts to make donations to candidates. That practice should be abolished, and to back it up, a state database of deals published for all to see. These moves would largely remove the possibility of the type of bid-rigging schemes that made headlines in Buffalo, Syracuse and elsewhere last year.

Aside from LLC money there is the ludicrously large amounts of money that candidates can accept in New York, including a maximum of $44,000 to statewide candidates. Donations to candidates for president are capped at $2,700. The state needs to set similar limits.

There are no easy answers to solving the state’s population decline. A December report by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that New York was one of just nine states to lose residents over the past year.

The means fewer of us are left to shoulder the tax burden, and translates to a loss of clout in Congress. New York is likely to lose at least one more congressional representative in next year’s census. It’s among the reasons to support Cuomo’s proposal to make permanent the cap on state property taxes.

The various reasons that people leave New York are familiar: a cumulative tax burden that is among the highest in the country; an escalating cost of living, particularly in downstate counties near New York City; and a perceived lack of economic opportunity.

Fresh thinking is needed to brighten our economic prospects. It’s incumbent upon our third-term governor, who touts our state as a model of progressivism, to tap our state’s intellectual capital to mold our future, to anticipate and seize new opportunities. This is more important than ever upstate, which still struggles with the long decline of its manufacturing base.

Indeed, Western New York’s legislative delegation must be wary that the blowback from felony corruption convictions related to the Buffalo Billion doesn’t induce the governor to retreat from this region’s needs. We can’t afford to let the momentum here stall.

The disadvantage to having one-party rule in Albany is there’s no one else to blame if your accomplishments don’t meet your expectations. But that’s no reason for the governor not to aim high in trying to clean up government and give citizens a reason to keep their faith in New York.

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