Battle Just Beginning Over Cuomo’s Budget Cut Plans
(AP) New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week presented a budget proposal that could result in the first year-to-year spending cuts in 15 years. He also exposed a hidden budget scheme he said jacked up spending for decades. By the end of the week, the lifelong liberal Democrat drew applause even from conservatives.
That might have been the easy part.
Cuomo, who spent last year’s campaign and his five weeks in office vilifying what he called Albany’s entrenched special interests, is now taking his fiscal vision on the road. He said popular support is essential to turn his proposal, or most of it, into a budget when it’s due Apr. 1.
Long overtaxed and deeply cynical New Yorkers are quick to support cuts to billions of dollars of overspending in Albany. But it will be a harder sell when they learn cutting a few thousand dollars means laying off their kid’s favorite teacher or custodians at the local hospital, closing a homeless shelter, freezing aid for foster care families, delaying a proposed safe house for sexually exploited youths, or reducing state police road patrols.
“It’s still being sold mostly on the wholesale level where it tends to be conceptual and attractive,” said Democratic Assemblyman John McEneny of Albany. “But when flesh and blood is injected into it, then we’ll see greater opposition developing around the specifics.”
There has already been a reaction in places like the Pine Bush schools, where the superintendent said the district addressed a smaller budget cut last year by getting rid of four administrators, more than 60 teachers and 80 assistants and monitors.
Pine Bush Superintendent Philip Steinberg told the Times Herald- Record of upstate Middletown that the governor is “going to be responsible for setting back the education program in this state 10 years.”
Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University and editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine, said Cuomo is taking a political gamble. But he said there was evidence in opinion surveys that the public understands that something needs to be done.
“I think it is going to be a tough battle, but New Yorkers, like Americans generally, recognize there are big financial problems that need to be addressed and there are no easy solutions,” Panagopoulos said.
“I think that what Cuomo suspects is that the public is willing to accept some short-term cuts in the interest of putting in place long-term solutions that lead to more sustainable fiscal policies.”
Cuomo is banking on it.
“I’m telling the people of the state: ‘You want to change the state? You have to do it with me,’” Cuomo said last Friday, Feb. 4 at Daemen College in Amherst. “I went back to Albany basically 30 years later, after when my father first started and I went up as a kid. The same lobbyists are there, the same special interests are there.”
“You will only defeat the lobbyists when the politicians know the people demand change,” Cuomo said at Manhattanville College in Purchase last Thursday, Feb. 3. “I’m going to do it, but I need them to do their part. And their part is to make their voice heard.”
Robert Ward, director of Fiscal Studies at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, said Cuomo exercised “purity of approach” in explaining his cuts last Tuesday, Feb. 1.
“Governors traditionally say they aren’t raising taxes and there is some significant wiggle room in that, usually,” Ward said. “There is very little wiggle room here ... whether people like it or dislike it, it is an extremely clear presentation of a fiscally conservative approach.”
Cuomo’s $132.9 billion budget proposal to the Legislature would cut spending 2.7 percent, or $3.37 billion, thanks in part to the elimination of more than $5 billion in temporary federal stimulus in the current budget. His cuts include 10 percent lopped off public universities and a historic 7.3-percent cut to school aid. The goal is to erase a $10 billion deficit without increasing broadbased taxes.
It is a different way to budget, but it’s also a different way to govern.
“What Cuomo is doing is—if not unique—extraordinarily novel,” said political scientist Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. “He’s running a permanent campaign as governor.”
“How does it play to the public? The last polls I looked at were really high,” Muzzio said. “If he keeps up the momentum, like a great running back keeping his feet churning, he can break tackles and make long runs.”
“It ain’t going to be easy and it’s going to be bloody,” Muzzio said.
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