For Gov. Cuomo, hurdles about to pile up
ALBANY - For one day anyway, it was all peace and harmony at the State Capitol when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered his first State of the State address. But the freshman governor's ambitious agenda faces some serious hurdles - which will emerge almost immediately.
Other governors have failed miserably when they tried to do what Cuomo has outlined: impose property tax caps, shrink government, toughen ethics laws, curtail Medicaid, create nonpartisan congressional and legislative districts. Each initiative comes with a ready-made and forceful resistance.
As Cuomo will learn, no governor is as popular as he is on the day of his first State of the State.
"This is not an agenda that will be done on day one, year one or maybe even term one. These proposed changes are going to create severe conflict," said Douglas Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist, referencing then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2007 promise that "On day one, everything changes."
"The era of honeymoon, if there is one, is going to be short," Muzzio said. "Most marriages break because of money and this one could go that way too."
Legislators and special-interest groups by and large praised Cuomo's blunt but conciliatory speech about the state's troubles. Democrats voiced support, in concept, for a property-tax cap. Republicans didn't balk at the idea of impartial redistricting. Health-care groups signed on to be part of a Cuomo task force to redesign Medicaid. All pledged to work together.
But such pledges are one thing. Hammering out agreements on long-running problems is another - especially when New York is facing a more than $9 billion deficit in the current fiscal year and a projected $14 billion the next, if no changes are made in the state budget.
"He is going to face fierce opposition," said Michael Dawidziak, a Long Island political consultant who frequently works for Republicans.
For instance, on Wednesday powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his Democrat-led chamber - which has crushed previous tax-cap proposals - said he was committed to "working together to cap property taxes."
But in the days following, Silver (D-Manhattan) hasn't said specifically that he'd back Cuomo's idea of setting the cap at 2 percent growth or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. He also hasn't committed to allowing cap overrides only by a vote of the local governing board and a 60-percent majority in a local referendum.
Similarly, Silver hasn't directly said whether he'd back the governor's call to let expire an income-tax surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $200,000 annually.
For his part, Silver said he's not going to negotiate publicly. That's left some rank-and-file lawmakers trying to gauge the Democrats' level of support for a cap - but clearly they are optimistic now.
Silver's "willingness to accept a tax cap," said Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), "was a showstopper."
Similarly, governors' ideas of downsizing Medicaid or redesigning school aid have died in the Assembly, where Democrats hold an overwhelming advantage, noted Stanley Klein, a political science professor at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University and a Suffolk GOP committeeman.
Klein said Cuomo's best hope on Medicaid will be garnering the support of Senate Republicans and the Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
"If Cuomo can get Skelos to support some of his things, he can put pressure on Silver," Klein said. But he added: "No governor has been able to effectively deal with Silver."
Cuomo made bipartisanship a major theme of his State of the State speech. His biggest challenge will be turning his rhetoric into reality as he deals with a divided legislature. But Cuomo's conciliatory tone - in stark contrast to Spitzer in 2007 - at least gets everyone off on better footing for what will be a painful budget, said Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport).
Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) raised another issue: Will Cuomo learn to forge compromise with elected leaders after four years as the state's top prosecutor?
Said Marcellino: "That's where he's going to have to make a determination."
With Michael Amon
and Patrick Whittle