Saturday, March 03, 2007

Spitzer Stars as He Reviews His First 60 Days in Office,

Henry Stern New York Civic

I found this little gem while perusing the various political blogs.......sorry it is not Howard Stern....and I don't agree with everything he has written below...but I found it fascinating to read his comments and perception of things...hope you will too.......andy

This morning Governor Spitzer presented his first full-dress report on his stewardship of New York State. Speaking at the New York Hilton to 650 civic and business leaders brought together by the Association for a Better New York, the governor presented the audience with an array of achievements which he asserted his administration had already accomplished. Among them was workers' compensation reform, under which he said benefits to injured employees had been increased and payments by companies reduced. Both labor and business signed off on the agreement, but possibly because of the shortness of time, we were not told how the result had been reached.

Another issue that had led to a multi year dispute between Governor Pataki and Speaker Sheldon Silver’s State Assembly, the civil confinement of mentally ill sex offenders after their prison term expires, was also resolved this month. Under the agreement between the three men in a room, there will be a court proceeding before the offender’s prison term is completed, so that psychiatrists can determine whether the sex offender due for release is still a risk. Of course, he (they are almost all male) is a risk, the question is how great a risk and how people's interest in not having their children raped or murdered is valued, compared to a sex offender's desire to attain freedom when his sentence finally ends, and civil libertarians’ belief that once a man has served his term, he has paid his debt to society and is entitled to another chance. We look forward to seeing how the new system works, any outcry will not come until the first rape/murder by a released offender, IF it occurs.

The governor made a professional power-point presentation which was a tour de force. He spoke extemporaneously and eloquently, although perhaps too quickly for slower ears and minds. He displayed a commanding personality and, when he is temperate, he comes across very well. Whether or not they agreed with everything he said, the audience was universally impressed with his grasp of the issues and his command of the language.. Even if the governor is not, as Congressman Rangel asserted on January 23, 2006, "the world's smartest man", he may well be America’s smartest governor. (California boasts America’s strongest governor, at least he was his prime.) But no one can excel at everything.Spitzer’s ability and knowledge contrasts with that of he new Comptroller, who may have the virtues of Everyman, but also has his limitations. You would never dream of another state-wide official making a presentation like today’s. Alan Hevesi was flawed, but he was very smart, and a competent Comptroller. What should the trade-off be? One possibility was to leave it to the voters to make that decision.

The current governor is not only able and honest, but he rose to the budget challenges that Hevesi mentioned relatively quietly during the last four years. We are curious to see what the new Comptroller will do when he learns the job. We hope he stays out of partisan politics. The core of the governor's speech this morning was that New York State had the highest taxes in the country and, for all the money we spent, a relatively low success ratio in education and health. He accused the city’s hospitals of using Medicaid to subsidize graduate medical education, and charging the state for excess bed capacity. He said Medicaid funding should correspond with the percentage of Medicaid patients at the hospital. Egad. He singled out Local 1199 of the Service Employeess International Union and the Greater New York Hospital Association as supporters of the status quo and enemies of progress. He flashed their logos on the screen repeatedly, so they could not say they were ignored. He showed a chart which said they had spent $65 million on an education fund, (one might say propaganda) and were the largest lobbyists in the state. This will most likely be his prime reform issue in 2007. Spitzer went on to denounce Governor Pataki's 2002 deal with the hospitals and unions under which a $3 billion one shot revenue item from the conversion of Blue Cross and Blue Shield to for-profit corporations was used to fund wage increases which would be permanent, not one-shot.

Spitzer did not say that, after this agreement, the union endorsed Governor Pataki for re-election over Carl McCall, but many in the room were nonetheless aware of the fact.. The union did not endorse any candidate for governor in 2006, but did support the Republican in the Nassau County special State Senate election last month. She lost. The governor was on shakier ground discussing education. He wants to spend even more money than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit requires. He showed impressive charts indicating how a substantially lower percentage of New York students graduate from high school, compared with the rest of the country. The statistics on high school graduation are even worse for the four largest cities in the state: New York, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. As a measure of upstate malaise, snowy Buffalo has lost more than half its population in the last fifty five years, (580,132 in 1950 to 279,745 est. in 2005) a record for formely major cities surpassed only by Detroit, (1,849,568 in 1950 to 886,671 est. in 2005). In exchange for additional billions of dollars, the Governor demands "accountability" in education. How do you measure that? Test scores. He doesn't really want a culture of testing but he knows it is necessary. But what do you do if the test scores remain low? Fire the teacher or principal? Require the pupil to repeat the grade? Increase or reduce the budget? Who really knows? One can demand accountability in the manufacture of engines, or in the care of injured soldiers. It is much harder to require specific results in educating young children from deprived backgrounds and incomplete families. The governor promises all day kindergartens and more pre-schools. That should be helpful. But what about the substantial drop in scores between the fourth and eighth grades? The governor wants kids to learn to read, write and do math. But at this time, school systems decline to use techniques which may have a better chance of reaching these goals, because these methods are not politically correct. There was not a word in the speech about pedagogy, phonics, fuzzy math, or the teachers union. There was a lot about money. But money can’t cure everything. Ask any dead billionaire. It is, however, only Day 61, and one cannot expect even a prodigy to resolve perennial problems in so short a stretch. We hope the governor will apply himself to education with the intensity with which he has mastered other subjects. We suggest he talk to people like Diane Ravitch, Sol Stern, Andrew Wolf and John McWhorter, among .others. They know more than the tenured guerillas of Teachers College, who now dictate policy through their expensive surrogates and army of consultants. To help the mayor retain control of the schools in 2009, essential to keeping the foxes out of the henhouse and destroying whatever progress has been made, the governor will have to involve himself substantively, not merely bankroll what one could call Educaid.

The governor knows Medicaid, with which he had peripheral involvement as attorney general, He was frustrated because he was denied by the state health department and the federal Department of Health and Human Services the tools and data he needed to fight fraud directly. He has used that knowledge to prepare an effective program, which he is now in a position to try to effectuate. The newspapers tomorrow morning should give full coverage to the governor's speech, and it will be interesting to see what parts they highlight. This essay is a look at the high points, from the viewpoint of a policy wonk. We also made suggestions where he could follow up.Our conclusion is that the governor is a highly competent and forceful executive, with the potential for excellence. He is off to a fast start, and, as we know, gets quite upset if he loses on something. This may be a vice or a virtue. Hopefully, his leadership will emancipate legislators from the bonds of their lobbyists and enable New York State to escape from its miserable fiscal and economic condition, due in part to its partisanship and politics, which have resulted in a generation of mediocrity, indolence and submission.


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