Cuomo, legislative leaders admit some unfinished budget issues

Apr 2, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are touting the virtues of the newly enacted state budget, but the spending plan has its share of critics.

Cuomo says one of the most important accomplishments achieved by him and the legislative leaders is that the budget was passed on time, for the fourth year in a row. And he used a baseball metaphor, complete with baseballs and bats for props, to describe the feat.

“This is the grand slam budget,” Cuomo said. “I’m pleased and proud.”

The governor says not since the days of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, in the early 1970s, have there been four on time budgets in a row.

Cuomo also highlighted a tax credit program for homeowners, a plan for expanded pre-kindergarten and more help for charter schools, as well as a more than five percent increase in school aid.

“Some people say it’s never enough and maybe it is never enough,” said Cuomo. “But 5.3 percent by any realistic scale is a great investment.”

But the budget is attracting its share of criticism. An ethics deal has been universally condemned by government reform groups, who say Cuomo gave away too much for too little.

Cuomo agreed to end a Moreland Act panel that was investigating the legislature for corruption in exchange for stronger anti-bribery laws and greater disclosure of some campaign donations. He also got a pilot program for public campaign finance, limited to the state Comptroller’s office, which Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, as well as others, say is unworkable.

“The governor and the legislative leaders have concocted a public financing scheme which is designed to fail,” said Horner. “There’s no two ways about it.”

Cuomo says his critics should instead be looking on the bright side.

“You can celebrate that this is the greatest advancement that’s been made,” Cuomo said. “Or you can say we’re disappointed that we haven’t had a total victory.”

Cuomo says the bottom line is that there are not currently enough votes in both houses of the legislature to approve a broader public campaign finance system that would apply to all statewide races, including the governor’s. And he says unlike same sex marriage and gun control legislation, where he was able to persuade a number of Republicans to vote yes, people’s minds are already made up.

“Public finance, somebody has deeply held views that it’s the wrong direction to go, ran for office telling people ‘I will never support it,’” Cuomo said. “It is an issue.”

State Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of a group of breakaway Democrats who lead the Senate in a governing coalition with the Republicans, is under intense pressure from the left over the campaign finance issue.

Klein, who attended the bill signing ceremony, says he’s not giving up and will try to persuade some of his GOP colleagues to change their minds in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think we’re done yet,” Klein said.

Cuomo’s opponent in the 2014 race for governor, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, also delivered a critique of the budget.

“This is a typical Albany, election year, gimmick budget,” Astorino said.  “The winners are the politicians, the losers are the vast New Yorkers who again will continue to pay the highest property taxes and income taxes.”

Astorino says a plan for a property tax rebate check, due out in October shortly before Election Day, does nothing to change the equation, and he says the real issue of unfunded state mandates was not addressed.  

Cuomo’s response, when asked about Astorino’s comments, was brief.

“Yeah, that’s  nice,” Cuomo said.

Astorino was at the Capitol to speak at a protest against a gun control law approved by Cuomo and the legislature last year.