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NY Gov. Cuomo's Budget Is More Than A Spending Plan

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2017 budget proposal.
Karen DeWitt
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2017 budget proposal.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget is not just facts and figures about what taxes to collect and how to spend them. Cuomo’s also put a number of unrelated changes into the spending plan - everything from allowing ride hailing services to expand in New York to enacting ethics reforms.

From allowing Uber and Lyft outside of New York City to imposing term limits on lawmakers, the governor’s budget includes many items that would normally be considered policy changes and debated and approved in the regular part of the session.

He’d like to enact the Dream Act, which would offer college tuition assistance to children of undocumented immigrants, and raise the age of incarceration in adult prison to 18, from the current 16 years of age.

“This is for non-violent felons," Cuomo said. "We’ve done everything we can administratively, but we need the law changed. And we’d like to do it this year.”

Those proposals have stalled in the past in the state Senate, which is led by Republicans.  Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, are against term limits.

Other non-budgetary proposals in the spending plan include requiring his agencies to buy American products for contracts worth more than $100,000, and changing the state’s liquor laws to allow beer and wine to be sold in movie theaters, with a focus on state-made beverages.

By adding all the unrelated items, Cuomo has amplified a practice begun before him. It intensified after former Governor George Pataki won a court case brought by the Assembly that affirmed a governor’s powers to go beyond numbers and add policy language to the budget. Political science professor Bruce Gyory, who has also has been a top advisor to two former governors, says  it makes sense to load up the budget with policy.

“You enhance your opportunity to get them done and focused on,” Gyory said.  

Cuomo is also beginning his seventh year in office, and it’s not unusual for governors to lose political capital by now, says Gyory. Meanwhile, the legislature is incensed over a failed attempt to win their first pay raise in nearly two decades in December, and is reasserting some authority.

“There’s a recognition that there’s fence mending that needs to go on,” Gyory said. "Because he's [Cuomo's] such an astute political personage and a much listener than people give him credit for, I think he realizes that this is not just the leaders who are ornery and angry at him over the pay raise, it's really more a rank-and-file issue."

After threats of a boycott by lawmakers, the governor decided to take his State of the State address out of Albany. In his budget roll out, he tried to make it up to legislators, even offering them private briefings on the state budget before he told the public what was in his spending plan. Some Senators still skipped the mansion meetings, and the Assembly scrapped their planned gathering altogether, saying debate on the floor was taking too long. Cuomo’s staff traveled to the Speaker’s office to fill them in on the budget.

Technically, the governor could ram his budget and all the unrelated proposals through, without the cooperation of the legislature, and say to them - either accept the proposals or the government will be shut down. Gyory says it’s politically safer, though, to work out a deal that eventually leaves everyone happy.

“I’m not presuming it’s going to be hearts and flowers, or be done with Kumbaya-meetings ” he said. “But they can get there, if everybody gives a little.”

Cuomo’s spending plan does that have something for everyone - all lawmakers of every political party like to spend more on public schools and he's added $1 billion. A plan to extend the tax on millionaires pleases Democrats, while intensifying middle class tax cuts appeals to Republicans.

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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