Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arm wrestling NY style?

A meeting with Gov. Eliot Spitzer

Given that California is NY's strongest rival in the "idea driven economy", would Gov. Spitzer be willing to take on Arnold Schwarznegger in an arm wrestling match? Surely not, the Governor was quick to retort; however he would gladly challenge him to an IQ match.

On a more serious note, the Governor seems to be all done with his bout of arm wrestling with the State’s Republican Leadership . He struck a more conciliatory note when he met the Editorial Board on 01/10. He mentioned that he realized that the public has no tolerance for stagnation and gridlock. His objective was to get things done. And get them done in a fiscally prudent way.

He plans to present a balanced budget without raising taxes. He did not envisage this increasing the state's debt in a major way as he planned plowing resources from the sale of state's sub optimally utilized assets (e.g. property in Manhattan) into more productive programs. And he did not feel the plans to sell the lottery were like selling the crown's jewels because he was taking a capital asset (State Lottery) and converting it into another capital asset ( Endowment for Higher Education).

His plans to move the focus on education from K-12 to what he described as P-16 (Pre K to end of college) sounded interesting. This approach plans to harness the expertise and resources available for higher education to improve the state of school education. He reiterated the need for getting parents more involved in the process. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

He drew some flak for referring his cap on property tax proposal to a commission for review. The Governor tried to dispel the notion that commissions are places where good ideas go to die. He expected the property tax commission to present its findings within this calendar year. He opined that the commission was a nice way to draw feedback and opinion from all stakeholders, a shift from the earlier unilateral approach much disliked by his detractors.

How can he as NYS Governor help New York City retain its position as the Global Economic Capital? A position increasingly under threat from competitors like London and Dubai. And an issue which impacts all of us since NY City is an engine of growth for the entire region. He mentioned about his initiatives with the CEO's of major financial corporations to formulate a new NY Financial Regulatory structure which removes the incoherence across various silos like Banking, Insurance etc and brings it more in line with the model used by London. He is in consultation with the Federal Government on these issues and the problems with visas which make global financial players choose London over NYC for their operations.

The governor has a strong agenda for Rochester. He spoke about Midtown and the fact that he had asked Mayor Duffy to identify similar other investments. He felt Rochester given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce and high concentration of research labs and higher education institutions was uniquely poised to benefit from the USD 600 million funding over the next 10 years on Stem Cell Research in the State.

The battles of last year do not seem to have taken a toll on the boldness of the Governor’s visionary thinking. He is more pragmatic and astute now. This should bode well for the execution of these plans to reality. Another year of gridlock is something which the public will not be willing to endure.

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