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Progressive Lawmakers Celebrate NYS Budget Victories, Gov. Cuomo Responds To Scandals

Progressive Democrats in the New York state legislature took a victory lap Wednesday, after passing a $212 billion budget that achieves many of their long-term goals, including a substantial increase in taxes on the wealthy and the fulfillment of a 15-year-old court order to fully fund schools. Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, embroiled in several scandals, put the best face on items that did not go his way.  

Progressive advocate and director of Invest in Our New York, Rebecca Bailin spoke at a Wednesday rally, held in the April sunshine outside the Capitol, and just below the windows of Governor Cuomo’s offices.

“It’s a beautiful day to tax the rich!” Bailin said.

Many of those who spoke have had run-ins with Cuomo, including Assemblyman Ron Kim, who has accused the governor of bullying him and threatening to destroy him, something Cuomo has denied. Kim says the $4.3 billion in higher personal income taxes for New York’s millionaires and billionaires, and a hike in the corporate franchise tax, will help correct income inequality.“

We took a couple steps toward liberation this week,” Kim said. “That’s what this budget is about.”

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, who has had a long running feud with the governor, says that he and the others have not given up on proposals to implement a higher capital gains tax and an inheritance tax on large estates.

“We’ve only just begun,” Gianaris said. “So strap in and get ready because we have a lot more work to do.” 

Senator Robert Jackson celebrated the plan to fulfill the 2006 court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, and fully fund the state’s poorest schools. Jackson was a plaintiff in the original suit, nearly 30 years ago.

“Whether you’re rich or you’re poor, everyone is guaranteed the opportunity for a sound basic education here in New York,” Jackson said. “That’s what the constitution says they’re entitled to. And that’s what this struggle has been about for years.”

Cuomo opposed the additional taxes, saying the rich will leave the state. He has argued that he already fulfilled the court order on schools and did not need to spend more.

But the governor is facing a number of scandals, including sexual harassment charges and a federal investigation into whether he hid the number of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of several women who has come forward gave new details to the Albany Times Union on Wednesday of her allegations that the governor groped her at the executive mansion. She also alleges that he threatened her to keep quiet.

Cuomo's attorney Rita Glavin, in a statement said “The people of New York know the Governor -- he has spent 40 years in public service and in the public eye. He has repeatedly made clear that he never made inappropriate advances or inappropriately touched anyone.” Glavins says the Attorney General’s ongoing review of the claim and others must be allowed to conclude.

Meanwhile, the final budget more closely resembles what the legislature wanted more than what the governor desired.

Cuomo, in a 70-minute presentation on Zoom Wednesday, offered his take on the spending plan. He praised that will provide rent relief to tenants and grants to small business hurt by the pandemic. 

“This budget is certainly the most robust, most impactful, most important budget that we have done in this state, I believe, in modern history,” Cuomo said.

Also during Wednesday's press conference, commented for the first time on allegations that the Democrat’s administration gave priority to COVID-19 tests for his family and friends, last spring when the tests were scarce.

Reports in the Washington PostNew York Times and Albany Times Union detailed accusations that Cuomo gave family members, including his mother and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, special access to coronavirus tests at a time when thousands of New Yorkers who were sick and dying from the virus could not get one. The reports say the governor dispatched a state health department doctor to their homes and used the state police to rush deliver the tests to the state’s processing lab.

CNN has already confirmed that Chris Cuomo received the tests, and Cuomo did not deny the allegations, saying that people who visited him during the early days of the pandemic received testing, but he says he was not closely monitoring the program.

“I was not involved in the testing program to that intimate level,” Cuomo said. “People who I would meet with, and I would be in exposure with, I was aware they were being tested.”

The governor says he can’t say more, because the allegations are part of an impeachment inquiry that’s being conducted by the State Assembly.

Cuomo says he’s not concerned with the higher taxes on the wealthy, because he believes that Democrats in Congress will work with President Joe Biden to repeal the imposed cap on deductions of state and local taxes, imposed under former President Trump, known as SALT. A repeal is not certain. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she’s sympathetic to the idea, but Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki says if Democrats in Congress want to end the cap, then they have to come up with a way to pay for it.

Cuomo is putting the brakes on a $2 billion legislative program to give stimulus checks to undocumented workers who were unable to obtain the federal monies. He says he’s worried that the undocumented workers will commit fraud, and wants State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Tish James, both Democrats, to review the program first. Until that happens, the governor says “we won’t implement the program.”

A spokeswomen for the Attorney General says James is “reviewing” the request.

The legislature clipped the governor’s wings in his proposal to build 10 new office towers around New York City’s Penn station, including one that would be taller than the Empire State Building. The governor will be limited to using the $1.3 billion earmarked for the project to improving train transportation underground.

Cuomo says the plan, combined with other infrastructure proposals including revamping airports and Thruway rest stops will still have a major impact.

“It will be large,” Cuomo said. “Because we need large-scale development.”

In a limited question and answer period, the governor was asked whether he feels the scandals he’s facing weakened his negotiating power during the budget. He did not directly answer, but says he’s had a “good working relationship with the legislative leaders.” Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has called on him to resign, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has authorized an impeachment inquiry.

Cuomo concluded the briefing with a remark that could be open to a wider interpretation.

“Don’t bet against New Yorkers,” he said. “You will lose.”

Republicans, who are in the minority in the legislature, criticized the budget as taxing and spending too much. State GOP leader Nick Langworthy, in a statement, said the spending plan will contribute to the “accelerated decline” of the state.

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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