The vision laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address Wednesday was received positively by local officials, who found many areas of common ground and were left encouraged about New York’s ability to tackle serious challenges ahead.
“I think it was very positive,” said state Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany. “We’re facing [a budget deficit of] $10 billion and we walked out of there thinking, ‘Maybe we can do this.’ ”
In a speech that was about 45 minutes long, Cuomo delivered his plan to change New York, including the institution of a property tax cap, the creation of a friendly business environment and a promise to close the looming budget deficit.
Breslin said he left the new governor’s speech with a positive feeling and a desire to work as a team. “I’m very optimistic about working with the new governor. I think he is a breath of fresh air,” said Breslin.
The feeling was reiterated by Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, who said Cuomo’s speech proved there was leadership that recognized the state needs to change the way it does business, which means putting the people’s business first.
“We need to rid Albany of the corruption,” said Amedore. “We need to stand up to the special interest groups.”
The governor also laid out incentive programs for schools and local governments, with $250 million available to school districts and administrations and a consolidation bonus to local governments that save money. Both measures were welcomed by Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton, who touted his record of consolidation in the past and said he had commissioned a study by Columbia University to look at future cost-saving measures.
Stratton said the bonus, which would provide property tax relief, and the education incentive money could be a boon to heavily taxed communities.
The messages of the day were welcomed by Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, but he warned that Cuomo will have to deal with a liberal Democratic conference that might try to fight him on parts of his fiscally conservative agenda. Tedisco expressed the sentiments of many Republicans who felt their platforms had been co-opted in Cuomo’s speech. He said his party was on board with the governor’s economic agenda.
“[Cuomo] doesn’t have to convince us, because we have the resolve to cut taxes, do a property tax cap, put people back to work and downsize the size of government,” he said.
On the issue of the property tax cap, which was passed in a watered-down version by the Senate and has never gained much traction in the Assembly under the leadership of Speaker Sheldon Silver, Tedisco said he was cautiously optimistic about the commitment Silver made preceding the governor’s address.
“I like what the speaker had to say, but I take it with a grain of salt because actions speak louder than words,” Tedisco said.
That sentiment was echoed by Amedore and state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, who suggested Silver might embrace a higher cap than the one that Senate Republicans and the governor support.
“The devil is in the details,” said McDonald, who was happy about Silver’s pledge but worried that half-measures might not alleviate the tax burden on the average New Yorker. He ultimately predicted that the Legislature will pass the 2 percent cap advocated by Cuomo because it’s what the public wants.
The property tax cap was just one of the issues McDonald felt the governor met head-on. He said he liked how Cuomo took a swing at the entrenched issues facing New York and that he admired how hard the governor was trying.
“I give him a lot of credit for not being politically correct and dealing with legitimate issues that are a problem,” said McDonald.
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, enthusiastically endorsed the plan laid out by the govenor and said he could support all of Cuomo’s proposals. “His agenda is the Senate Republican agenda,” said Farley, referring to the governor’s fiscal agenda and not his social priorities.
He said Cuomo was focused on the important three issues: Medicaid, education and mandates.
On the issues of Medicaid and education, though, Breslin warned against spending cuts to balance the budget. He said the state just needs to look for more efficient delivery methods.
The issue of consolidation of government offices across the state was a point of agreement for most local officials, with some noting a flaw in Cuomo’s approach.
Tedisco said the only concern he had about reducing the state’s bureaucracies was that the governor wanted to create a new bureaucracy to make the change. “[Cuomo] actually created a commission to reduce commissions,” he said. Amedore opted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt on the issue if the new commissions are assigned hard deadlines and aren’t given unlimited funds.