Gov. Cuomo hopes to continue success in 2012
Governor Cuomo, by all accounts, had a successful first year in office accomplishing many of his top goals laid out last January. He implemented his fiscally conservative agenda, including closing a gaping $10 billion dollar budget deficit without imposing any new taxes at the time, and getting the spending plan done on time, a rarity in Albany. Cuomo also convinced skeptical lawmakers to agree to a 2% property tax cap.
The governor spoke of his achievements recently during a speech at the State University at Buffalo, which he says include making New York “a pro growth, pro business state”.
Cuomo also enacted his socially progressive priority of legalizing gay marriage in New York State, which won him national praise.
Steve Greenberg, a political analyst who is the spokesman for polling at Siena College, says Cuomo enjoyed the most successful first year for a governor in the past half century.
He says for the last several years, New York was considered to have “the most dysfunctional state government in the country”.
“In one year, Andrew Cuomo was able to demonstrate that, with leadership, you can actually get things done in Albany and make things happen,” Greenberg said.
The governor managed to achieve the changes without compromising his popularity with New Yorkers, unlike some of his predecessors. Former governors George Pataki and Elliot Spitzer also had successful first years, but lost the public’s good will, says Greenberg.
“He accomplished so much of his agenda in the first year, but he didn’t do it by squandering or losing his political capital,” Greenberg said.
Toward the end of his first year in office, Governor Cuomo did change his mind about a key policy item. He dropped his long standing resistance to renewing a tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest. Cuomo and the legislature agreed to reinstate an income tax surcharge for those earning more than $2 million dollars a year. Greenberg says he doesn’t think the flip flop will harm the governor in the long run. The tax package also includes tax breaks for the vast middle class, and taxing rich people is a widely popular idea.
In addition, Greenberg says, Cuomo solved two major problems for the upcoming state budget. He secured a new source of revenue, and can keep his pledge to increase spending on health care and education after slashing those parts of the budget last year.
The governor’s grades are not as high in the area of transparency. Cuomo promised to have a more open administration, but all key decisions have been made behind closed doors, often with only the consultation of the two majority party legislative leaders, a practice known as three men in a room.
Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, observed the December 7thspecial session, where lawmakers voted on major changes to the state’s tax code, as well as an infrastructure jobs program. The voting took place late at night, as soon as the bills were printed, and many legislators did not have time to even read what they were asked to vote on.
Bartoletti says while the governor began his term with some symbolic acts, like reopening the historic hall of governors on the second floor of the Capitol, long closed off to the public, he still has some work to do.
“We do still have a very secretive way of coming to public policy,” Bartoletti said. “That’s unfortunate, because I think people expected a more open process.”
Greenberg, with Siena College says for now, the public doesn’t seem to mind, as long as the governor can get things done.
As year two begins, there are some challenges on the horizon. One is the redrawing of legislative and congressional lines, currently under way by the Senate and Assembly. Cuomo has said he’ll veto the new district lines if they are gerrymandered or not done by an independent commission. The governor has admitted, though that a veto would be “chaotic”, because then the new districts would be designed by the courts., so the only alternative is to win rapid agreement with lawmakers on new lines early in the New Year.
Another potential controversy is hydrofracking, and whether the state should allow the gas drilling on private lands. Greenberg calls fracking a “lose-lose” situation for the governor, because whichever decision he ultimately makes, he risks angering either the powerful gas drilling industry, or environmentalists who are part of the Democratic base.
And, after an exciting first year, Cuomo needs to take care of some seemingly mundane but important items, including mandate relief, pension reform, and government consolidation.