Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to mix some optimism into his first State of the State address today along with his plan to overhaul a state government still mired in fiscal crisis.
Cuomo, who like many governors this year opted for a scaled-back inauguration amid deep deficits, is now planning a new kind of State of the State address today.
“The State of the State is often a list of programs, a list of promises, sort of a ‘check the box’ — here’s one program for this group and one program for this group and it’s a laundry list that is then presented to the Legislature and enters the great abyss, somewhere down the road,” Cuomo said in an Albany radio interview Tuesday.
“That’s not what we’re going to hear tomorrow,” he told WGDJ-AM. “We’re going to hear a specific operational prescription for moving this state forward and managing the government and correcting many of the management operational problems that we now face. I really believe we have a short time frame here. And we have to do things much differently than we’ve done them in the past.”
Cuomo said he will announce the first of several agency mergers that he promised during his campaign. The state Insurance and Banking departments would be part of that initial consolidation, creating an agency that will be less expensive to run, yet more effective in regulating Wall Street, he said.
But Cuomo needs the support, even if it’s grudging, of the Legislature for his plans. Although the State of the State isn’t as important as his Feb. 1 budget address, it will set the tone for budget negotiations with the Legislature.
“It’s taxes, spending and private-sector job creation,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican who has pledged to work closely with Cuomo on budget issues. “That’s it. That’s the message.”
“I think he’s going have the backing of legislators, I just don’t know how many,” said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua. He said, however, that if Cuomo includes deep spending cuts in his budget, it will provide the political cover that could attract more legislative support.
Powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has repeatedly said he supports Cuomo and his goals to address deficits of more than $10 billion in a $130 billion annual budget. But Cuomo’s plan for extensive budget cuts in the face of historic deficits is on a collision course with Silver’s long-standing defense of greater spending for education and health care for the poor.
Cuomo will have to walk a tight line. He’ll provide optimism for the future that New Yorkers will want to hear. But he can’t diminish the need to face a current $1 billion deficit and the $10 billion projected in the fiscal year beginning April 1, with more down the line.
“I don’t believe it’s grim,” Cuomo said. “I actually believe there’s an opportunity for us … if we do this right, we will look back and say, it was a moment of opportunity and we seized it.”
Optimism, a powerful political tool, would come after two years of compounding deficits, spending cuts and layoffs in a recession that included near record unemployment.
“I think it would be better if he acknowledges the situation isn’t as bad as some people think,” said Frank Mauro of the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute. “It’s bad, but not as bad as some people think, and it’s getting better.”
The danger, Mauro said, is that governments nationwide are now laying off public workers and cutting services on which many jobs rely, just as private-sector jobs are returning.
“Government is becoming a drag on growth,” Mauro said. “As the private-sector recovery is trying to gain traction, governments and legislatures around the country are nervous and I think you will see deeper cuts than are necessary. It’s going to put a drag on the economy.”