There's Vice President Biden, pushed out front on gun control. And who knows, perhaps Sen. John Kerry again after a tour as secretary of state. Maybe even Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded very urgent in his insistence on passing the toughest gun control laws in the nation. But his initiatives on firearms and same-sex marriage will wilt like last night's gardenia by 2016.
The wisest course for Cuomo may be to point to 2020. That would give him more time to begin to turn New York State around. The new economic normal in New York is not likely to attract much praise anywhere but California, which is flirting with bankruptcy.
Behaving like Assembly incumbents from Kings County instead of pro-business advocates, Unshackle Upstate and the State Business Council gushed at the absence of new taxes in Cuomo's 2014 budget message.
“Without question,” Unshackle Upstate crowed, “the governor's fiscally responsible approach has put New York on the road to economic recovery.” No, it hasn't.
“No higher taxes” doesn't cut it, with competitors like Nebraska and Louisiana proposing to shift from corporate and personal income taxes to sales levies, and Virginia planning to eliminate its gasoline tax. New York claims the highest state and local taxes in the country, and counties ranging from Chautauqua to Erie to the Bronx continue to lose private-sector jobs.
Because of crushing – and largely hidden – pension and benefits costs for public employees and retired public employees, pressures on city, county and school district regimes for more revenue are still growing, and bearing down more heavily on a static or dwindling population and business base. Harvard's Kennedy School last spring warned that many state pension systems “are dangerously underfunded.” New York is an example. The 2014 Cuomo budget is a tacit admission that the earlier Cuomo state pension reforms are a fiscal failure.
E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute, a private watchdog, warned that Cuomo's plan to “stretch” public pension payments is “a big financial gamble” for retirees and taxpayers. And it may violate the state Constitution's guarantees against undermining pension security.
It is reminiscent of gimmicks Gov. Nelson Rockefeller employed to kick financial problems down the road: Tactics that led to New York's having the second-largest debt after California in the nation. According to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the state's borrowing capacity has dropped from $9.2 billion five years ago to $509 million as of April 1.
Accordingly, no one knows how to pay for a new $3.1 billion Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River. Essentially, the Cuomo pension plan would “flatten” local government and school district bulges in pension payments, rolling loaded dice that tax revenues would grow in the future.
“Politicians in general are notorious for their short-term time horizons and need little encouragement to steal money from the future to meet current needs,” McMahon wrote. Unabashed, Unshackle Upstate has endorsed this shaky scheme.
Obama has no realistic plan on the horizon to grow private business in his second term. Federal taxes and health care premiums will increase, and Obama will not challenge China's currency games that overprice our domestic manufactures. With the new normal U.S. unemployment rate loitering around 7 percent for years to come, voters in 2016 are unlikely to think long about any governor who hasn't shown them anything better. Wishing won't make it so.