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Political March 24, 2011  RSS feed

Cuomo’s Strategy Sets Him Up For Budget Win

by Michael Gormley

(AP) Gov. Andrew Cuomo is playing the patrician role amid New York’s persistent fiscal crisis. Taking a line from rapper Eminem’sNot Afraid,” about growing into fatherhood, Cuomo seems to be telling Albany he’lltreat this roof like my daughters, and raise it.”

But the smiling Cuomo backs his promise up hard, like this Eminem verse: “Cause ain’t no way I’m let you stop me from causing mayhem.”

“Governor Cuomo is following Teddy Roosevelt’s path, speaking softly and carrying a big stick,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “In his case, though, the stick is really a loaded gun.”

The weapon is Cuomo’s ability to impose his own state budget if the Legislature can’t agree to one by the Apr. 1 deadline. That means the legislators wouldn’t get a say in their priorities of education, health care and other spending that is critical to their constituents. They also wouldn’t get to feed their special interest benefactors, including public employee unions and lobbyists.

The power comes from former Gov. David Paterson. Last year, Paterson secured his legacy by pressing a mostly unnoticed constitutional power for governors, buried in a decade-old lawsuit won by former Gov. George Pataki over the Legislature.

Now that the power is established, and a second governor has shown he’s willing to wield it, New York’s decades-long trail of late budgets may soon end. How soon?

The Cuomo administration says it’s ready to make the Democrat’s $132.5 billion plan, which carries a 2.7 percent cut and deep gouges to the public university system, the law of the land on Apr. 2.

“This is about recognizing the new economic reality that government is responsible for management, just like everyone else,” Cuomo said. “The days when government can just throw money at the problem and raise more taxes ... those days are over.”

Not coincidentally, the Legislature has rarely been as close to a governor in its own budget proposals. The budget process has hit every deadline so far under a 2007 budget reform law that had been mostly ignored. In the face of angry advocates battling Cuomo’s 7.3-percent cut in school aid, some lawmakers might rather blame the popular Democrat alone for the historic cuts and set their sights on spending next year, an election year.

“I don’t think he’s threatening,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose budget proposal cuts more than Cuomo, while restoring some school aid. “He’s just saying that if there’s not an on-time budget, this is the approach he’s going to take and that’s his decision as governor.”

Cuomo has made his threat so clear that lawmakers and the powerful interests that have depended upon them wonder if Cuomo’s preferred scenario is to impose his budget.

Last Thursday, Mar. 17, Cuomo channeled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—and not his more diplomatic father, the former Gov. Mario Cuomo—to accuse school lobbyists and their union clients of a political game, fraud, waste and abuse—hitting “fraud” harder than any governor before dared.

“I don’t see it as an idle threat,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of the powerful New York State United Teachers union that has won far more battles than it’s lost in Albany for its 600,000-plus members. “I feel the governor feels that he’s responsible for a budget on Apr. 1. I think more attention should be given to the consequences, consequences in the classrooms to those types of decisions, rather than just political maneuvering.”

Just two years ago, NYSUT ran a compelling TV ad against Paterson depicting a sad schoolgirl alone in a dark classroom. The ad said the Democrat’s cuts meant “the American dream is in danger.”

In one health care advocate’s ad back then, a frantic mother rushed her unconscious child to the hospital, only to find it closed: “I don’t believe it?” The narrator then blamed Paterson: “Is yours next?”

Today, one health care union is running a pro-Cuomo ad after getting a “living wage” provision for raises for its members as part of Cuomo’s Medicaid overhaul.

“Bees with no stingers,” Eminem calls once formidable opponents, warning: “Cause I ain’t playin’ around.”