NYAPRS Note: You can watch Governor Cuomo’s 2nd State of the State address today at 1:30pm by going to http://www.governor.ny.gov/. The disability community has been working to hear several references from the Governor today, supporting:
- An expansion in employment initiatives
- A commitment to the development of a state Olmstead plan that re-focuses the Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council
- Strong support to adopt and implement the Community First Choice option
Cuomo Buoyed by Record Ratings Seeks to Revamp New York Agencies
By Freeman Klopott Bloomberg News January 4, 2012
Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, riding record approval ratings, may use his second year to consolidate agencies, raise the retirement age for new workers and lower costs for local governments as he closes a $2 billion budget gap.
The 54-year-old first-term Democrat has discussed his goals for the year, though not specific legislation, in a series of public appearances and interviews during the past month. Today, he plans to outline his 2012 agenda in his State of the State speech in Albany, the capital.
“He’ll talk about the success of Year One,” said Steve Greenberg, a pollster for Siena College in Loudonville, New York. “He’ll outline the budget in broad terms and discuss everything in the context of creating jobs and improving the economy.”
In his first year, Cuomo erased a $10 billion deficit, got New York’s two biggest government-worker unions to agree to pay freezes and furloughs, instituted a property-tax cap and pushed through a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the third-most- populous state. In December, the Legislature passed a Cuomo- endorsed tax package that raised rates on those earning $2 million or more, and cut them for the middle class.
A poll by Quinnipiac University conducted after the tax changes put Cuomo’s approval rating at 68 percent, two percentage points higher than the record set in July 2002 by Republican Governor George Pataki, the university said.
“He’s absolutely the most successful governor in his first year in recent memory,” Greenberg said.
The extra revenue from the new tax brackets cut the estimated fiscal 2013 deficit to $2 billion from $3.5 billion, leading the governor to say “the budget is 50 percent done,” at a press conference in Albany after the Senate approved the measure.
Cuomo, whose father, Mario, served three terms as governor, has said he now may turn his attention to streamlining the government.
“Next year, I’m going to shift to more of an operational front,” he said during a Dec. 16 interview on former Governor David Paterson’s show on WOR radio in New York City. “The whole system was designed at a different time and a different place, and it needs serious reorganization.”
Cuomo convened the 20-member Spending and Government Efficiency Commission in April to find ways to consolidate agencies. In a report released last month, the panel recommended that the state centralize procurement, debt collection and human resources to save almost $600 million over five years.
The Public Employees Federation, the state’s second-biggest government-worker union, isn’t convinced the so-called SAGE plan will create savings, President Ken Brynien said in a statement e-mailed when the report was released.
The commission’s findings lacked details, “opening the door to increased patronage and cronyism” because the proposals could lead the state to rely more on private contractors, Brynien said.
Cuomo also won’t find help from unions when it comes to overhauling the state pension, which he has repeatedly described as a priority for 2012.
“Our pension fund is fully funded,” Brynien said during a Dec. 22 interview in his Latham, New York, office. “We’re trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist just because it’s a politically popular thing to do.”
New York’s $133.8 billion retirement plan, the third- largest in the U.S., was 101.5 percent funded in 2010, better than any other state, according to an annual study by Bloomberg Rankings.
Cuomo unsuccessfully pressed lawmakers last year for a new pension tier for incoming state and local workers that would save $93 billion over 30 years by raising the retirement age to 65 from 62, increasing employee contributions and stopping workers from using overtime in their final years to boost payouts.
Local governments and school districts have pressured the governor to reduce the cost of state-required programs, such as pension funding. The issue has taken on more importance as they work to stay below the 2 percent property-tax cap that took effect Jan. 1.
About 20 percent of local governments have voted to raise property taxes above the cap, Kate Gurnett, a spokeswoman for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, said in a Dec. 28 e-mail.
Cuomo has said he wants to find other ways of cutting local-government costs, too.
‘Too Much Government’
“We have too much government,” he said on Paterson’s show. “The overhead is too high, and we don’t get enough for it.”
One path would be to increase incentives for municipalities and school districts to merge services with neighbors or dissolve, Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman, said in a December interview in Albany.
Since 2005, the New York Department of State has given more than $51 million to 324 grant recipients to help local governments share services or break up, saving more than $560 million over a decade, according to Chris Valens, a department spokesman.
As state attorney general, the post he held before becoming governor, Cuomo pushed through the Legislature a bill meant to make it easier for villages to dissolve by lowering the number of signatures needed to put such measures on the ballot.
–Editors: Mark Schoifet, Stephen Merelman
Cuomo’s State Address May Touch On Budget Gap, Expanded Gambling
By Zack Fink NY1 January 3, 2012
Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver his State of the State address on Tuesday and and insiders expect him to discuss the consolidation of state agencies, legislative redistricting, the closing of a $2 billion budget gap and the expanding of casino gambling beyond Indian reservations. NY1’s Zack Fink filed the following report.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has already taken on some of the state’s most vexing issues. Working with the state Legislature last year, he signed a bill legalizing same sex-marriage,
Just last month he struck a deal to restructure the tax code which will cost higher income-earners more money but give tax cuts to most everyone else.
“The honeymoon is still on, so I think people are looking for this governor to do a couple of things to wrap up what he passed last year. One of those things would be mandate relief,” said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters.
Last year, lawmakers approved a 2-percent cap on local property taxes outside of New York City. But now, municipalities are struggling to stay within it.
Insiders say cutting back state-mandated costs for local governments is one form of relief the governor may address in his speech. The other is consolidation of state agencies.
Also on the agenda is legislative redistricting, including a possible battle over expanding the size of the State Senate, something that Democrats say will help Republicans maintain a majority.
“There’s a good chance that we will go to 63 [senate districts],” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican.
“Well, what the Senate Republicans are now proposing just confirms everyone’s worst fears about the unfairness of the redistricting process,” said Queens Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat. “Currently, what they are proposing is tearing up the state constitution and submitting an illegal plan just so they can maintain their political power.”
Looking for new revenue, the governor has also expressed serious interest in expanding casino gambling beyond the state’s Indian reservations. But critics say that is hardly a new idea.
“Legalized gambling and casino gambling is the sort of thing you do for job growth when you are fresh out of any other ideas about what to do for promoting economic growth,” said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center. “Any economic gain, if there’s any at all from casino gambling, won’t come for at least two years.”
Legalizing gaming would not be immediate because it requires a constitutional amendment.
The governor is also expected to touch on education reform, and it remains to be seen how he plans close a $2 billion budget gap.
Analysis: NY Gov. Cuomo Faces Tough Second Act
Associated Press January 3, 2012
ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes his second State of the State speech Wednesday and faces a bigger challenge than his catalog of political wins in Year One. It’s called Year Two.
Writing the script for a second act that will carry over the momentum of a big opening can be daunting.
“You set the bar high when you have a lot of accomplishments in your first year, so it sets a lot of expectations for the second year,” said Republican adviser David Catalfamo, a top aide to Republican Gov. George Pataki, who cut spending, slashed bureaucracy and cut taxes in his first two years. Like Pataki, Cuomo sold New Yorkers on a promise of deliverance from government dysfunction and economic pain.
Cuomo, a Democrat, says he even surprised himself by accomplishing most of his four-year legislative agenda in one year. It included cuts in state spending, legalizing gay marriage, capping the growth in some of the nation’s highest property taxes, and a small but rare middle-class tax cut in December as part of a deal for a millionaire’s tax.
“What makes Andrew Cuomo’s first year unique was the accomplishments and the ability to have as strong a favorability rating with voters at the end of the first year as he did at the beginning of the first year,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll.
That gives Cuomo a critical advantage going into a second year over Pataki – who faced a mostly Democratic state and a bitter Democratic Assembly majority.
Cuomo said his second-year agenda will focus on making government and schools more efficient, creating jobs, reducing expensive mandates and carrying out the legislative wins of last year. He isn’t hinting about any eye-catching proposals, but the State of the State is the best venue for governors’ biggest pitches.
“The functioning of government is important,” Cuomo told The Associated Press on Monday. “Somehow we lost the focus on that.”
Although speeding up the lines at the DMV seems an unlikely priority for a rising political star whose name is already mentioned among presidential candidates for 2016, it’s part of a critical and difficult task for New York and his own ambitions.
“What he has done takes a huge effort to start, and a bigger effort to sustain,” said Robert Bellafiore, the primary staffer on Pataki’s second State of the State address.
And that might be enough.
“All he has to do is continue to bridge the partisan gap, run the state while other states are collapsing financially,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a top political strategist who worked for the Clinton administration, where Cuomo was housing secretary. “He doesn’t have to do magic tricks.”
“Everyone is paying attention to what Andrew Cuomo does because Andrew Cuomo is a national star,” Sheinkopf said.
Cuomo has already put off more heated issues until after the speech, such as whether to allow drilling into upstate shale for natural gas, a process environmental groups consider hazardous. He said he’s awaiting further study. And he’s given little attention to a top campaign promise of creating voluntary public financing of campaigns. Good-government groups say the lack of public financing has long fostered corruption in Albany and its so-called pay-to-play culture. Cuomo’s idea to approve private sector casinos will require a lengthy constitutional amendment, but will also likely have a spot in the speech.
Cuomo says little these days about redistricting, the process under which the legislative majorities traditionally redraw election district lines to protect their power. That may be critical to continue the slim majority of the Senate Republicans who are closely allied with Cuomo. As a candidate, Cuomo promised to fight for an independent commission to draw those lines. Now he says he will veto lines he considers unfair and partisan, likely sending the issue to court.
And the Legislature that has derailed past governors isn’t anxious to get in Cuomo’s way.
Although this is an election year for the Senate and Assembly, lawmakers benefited from a timely budget, a share in Cuomo’s legislative victories and a tranquil period after four years of scandal, gridlock and historic tax increases under Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. Senate Republicans are confident they’ll retain power, bolstered by their close alliance with Cuomo.
State of the State speeches are most closely watched by pundits, political insiders and C-SPAN fans. It’s when New York politics puts on its best face, when governors exaggerate accomplishments, praise legislators and dredge up New York’s grand history to show how big and bold the future can be.
Siena’s Greenberg expects Cuomo’s “A-game.”
“While a great performance doesn’t necessarily have a long shelf life, a bad performance would likely be talked about for a long time,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Gormley is the Albany Capitol editor for The Associated Press and has covered New York politics for the AP for more than 10 years.