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Poll Finds New Yorkers Don't Want A Late Budget Over An Ethics Fight

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas
Governor Andrew Cuomo in Goshen, NY 09.22.11

    Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly threatened to hold up the state budget over ethics reform and other issues, like education policy. Now, a poll finds that voters would rather that the budget be on time. The spending plan is due March 31st and lawmakers return to Albany Wednesday to begin several weeks of negotiations.

The Siena college survey asked voters about Cuomo’s plan to make the state budget late if the legislature doesn’t agree to an ethics package that includes fuller disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income. Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg says the majority, 55 percent, think that’s a bad strategy, and many question the governor’s motives.

“Half the voters of this state say it’s an idle political threat,” Greenberg said. “Only 42 percent think it’s real, serious effort by the governor to get ethics reform passed.”

Last year, Cuomo agreed to disband a Moreland Act Commission on corruption in exchange for a budget deal that included new anti-bribery laws, but critics said that the package he accepted was too weak, and did not go far enough.

Poll respondents do believe that cleaning up corruption in Albany is very important. 92 percent say it’s a serious problem. The Assembly Speaker was recently arrested and charged with operating a multi million dollar scheme of bribery and kickbacks, and had to resign.  The US Attorney is in the midst of several other anti- corruption investigations.

But Greenberg says voters are also concerned that the past four years of orderly budgets will end, and New York will go back to the  decades- long tradition  of late budgets and dysfunction.

“The governor himself may have created this problem for himself,” said Greenberg. “For the last four years he’s touted an on time budget.”

Greenberg says “voters have gotten used” to lawmakers meeting their deadlines.

“They like it, and they want to continue to see it,” he said.  

In addition to putting his ethics reform package in the budget, Cuomo has also added other policy items to the state spending plan, including education changes. Cuomo wants 100 more charter schools, stricter teacher evaluations, an education tax credit for private schools, and the Dream Act, which would give college aid to children of immigrants who came to the country illegally.

A 2004 court decision limited the legislature’s ability to make changes in the governor’s spending plan, and the current governor has increasingly put more policy language into the state’s spending plan, including raising the minimum wage in 2013 and increasing penalties for texting while driving in 2014.  

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, says it’s a “slippery slope” to put more and more unrelated items into the budget.  

“Most of the negotiations take place behind closed doors, “Lerner said. “These issues and the public don’t have the benefit of a full legislative process, which is designed to allow different voices to be heard and to build a consensus.”

Governor Cuomo has argued that he has more leverage with the often divided state legislature to get things passed when they are included in the budget, than as stand -alone bills during the rest of the session. Lerner says that’s a sorry statement on Albany’s dysfunction.

“That is an indictment of our legislature and a break down in the legislative process,” Lerner said.

Ultimately, the governor has the upper hand in the budget talks. Under a practice begun by his predecessor, former Governor David Paterson, Cuomo can offer lawmakers the choice of accepting his spending plan, with all the other policy changes included, or reject it and shut down the government.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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