The Steamroller You See is the Steamroller You Get

When Eliot Spitzer became Attorney General,  many of us knew we were getting a tough-minded and focused fellow. When Spitzer considered some thing to be the right thing, that was that. Eliot Spitzer’s temperament did not lend itself to his becoming a master consensus builder.

The positives came out in Attorney General Spitzer’s standing up to the SEC,  insisting upon prosecuting Wall Street firms that had been cheating their customers. It made him a national hero, and, eventually governor.

The clear vision resulted in excellent appointments to key positions in his administration, along with much needed expansions in public school funding and state health programs (the latter currently blocked by the Bush administration and in litigation).

The deficits in political finesse came with the package. Thus the Governor made a name for himself by claiming to be “a f***ing steamroller” in a telephone conversation with Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco warning Tedisco not to get in his way.

Fast forwarding eight months, Tedisco now is gaining national exposure on CNN blasting  the Governor for allowing undocumented sojourners to obtain driver’s licenses. Tedisco, a standout basketball player in his days at Union College, is not steamrolled gladly.

Spitzer opened the door for Tedisco by not building his case before proposing the license initiative. He could have at least taken a page from his national opposition’s playbook and named the thing. “The Secure Highways Initiative” would have been hokey but plausible, and would have framed the issue from the get-go.

But no. And Spitzer’s “see it, deal with it, and let the chips fall where they may” style has allowed Jim Tedisco to frame the debate thus far. 72% of New Yorkers are with Tedisco.

Emboldened, Tedisco is talking about recalling the Governor, even though New York does not have a provision to do so.

Long story short — a little finesse goes a long way. Not that I would pretend to be anyone’s life coach, especially the Governor’s. As a voter, though, I knew what we were getting. Anyone who had kept up with the news should have also.

Best to take the good with the bad and not freak out over one overly demagogued issue. And the the good continues.

For a number of years the Revenue Forum, a loosely-knit meeting of human service, labor, religious, and citizen groups in which I participate, has been advocating the closing of corporate tax loopholes — tax breaks that do not benefit the public, even if some were originally well-intentioned, such as job-creation incentives for companies that turn out to not create jobs.

Change was generally an uphill trek during the Pataki administration. With Governor Spitzer, we may not break out the toboggans yet, but we can tread more briskly. From the Times Union:

State Budget Director Paul Francis’ address to the Rockefeller Institute should prepare corporate titans for another round of attempts to close several “corporate tax loopholes”.

Francis said Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s second budget, to be released Jan 22, will attempt to avoid raising taxes although such adjustments will be made to laws that allow corporations to virtually avoid taxation.

He said brownfield and Empire Zone policies will also be reformed to make sure the state isn’t giving away hundreds of millions of dollars without gaining the intended outcomes of those programs – public subsidies of job creation and cleanup of polluted properties.

“We will need to do more with less,” he advised, but promised investments in higher education and economic development, which he said are related. 

This is good. This also is the real deal for New York State’s future. It’s the stuff we should be caring about.


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