ALBANY - Invoking hard-pressed homeowners on Long Island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his inaugural address Saturday called for quick passage of a property tax cap.
Cuomo, who became New York's 56th governor at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, said high property taxes from school districts and other local governments have fueled a dangerous exodus of residents and businesses. He has proposed a 2-percent cap on yearly tax increases with limited exceptions.
"The taxpayers on Long Island . . . are imprisoned in their homes because they can't afford to pay the property taxes anymore, but the value of the home has dropped so low that they can't afford to sell the house because they can't pay off the mortgage," Cuomo told about 200 people gathered in the Capitol's ornate War Room for his ceremonial swearing-in.
"This state has no future if it is to be the tax capital of the nation. We have to send that signal this [legislative] session by passing a property tax cap," he said.
State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), one of a handful of politicians invited to the inauguration, backed the Democratic governor's sense of urgency. Noting that the Senate has passed a tax cap multiple times only to see it die in the Assembly, Skelos said residents "don't want to hear there's talk about a cap anymore . . . they want results."
However, Cuomo acknowledged that the tax cap, overhaul of governmental ethics, consolidation of state agencies and other top priorities were unlikely to happen minus strong expressions of support from the public. So, he spent much of the 30-minute speech imploring residents to participate in forthcoming policy debates.
Cuomo vowed to "mobilize the people" because "only the people's voice can silence the calls of the special interests in the halls of the Capitol."
To encourage citizen participation, his first executive order removes the concrete barriers outside one Capitol entrance and reopens the hallway outside the governor's office. After the 55-minute inauguration, Cuomo cut a red ribbon reopening the Hall of Governors, which features paintings of his predecessors and was closed to the public by Gov. George Pataki in the mid-1990s.
Cuomo then walked outside the Capitol to shake hands with crane operators taking away the barricade that has been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
In his speech, Cuomo was passionate about public participation in state government and ending years of dysfunction. The son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo said he was alarmed by residents' deep cynicism about Albany.
"Too often, government responds to the whispers of the lobbyists before the cries of the people," said Cuomo, 53. "Our people feel abandoned by government, betrayed and isolated - and they are right."
Besides Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli took their respective oaths of office during the bare-bones inauguration. Later, Cuomo and Duffy spent two hours greeting about 300 members of the public at the Executive Mansion.
Among the well-wishers were Richard and Pamela Leisenfelder of Latham, an Albany suburb. They said they told the new governor to focus on closing this year's $9.3-billion budget deficit.
Richard said, "The financial control of the state needs to be taken away from the politicians in the Assembly and the Senate."
With Patrick Whittle