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Cuomo faces hurdles in third year of his term


*** BESTPIX *** NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pauses after delivering his State of the State and budget proposals at The City College of New York on February 6, 2013 in New York City. Among issues addressed were the cost of the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, policing, economic development and education. His $142.6 million executive budget would increase state spending by 2 percent and raise school aid by 4.4 percent, to $21 billion. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Spencer Platt

ALBANY -- State legislators have doubts about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's idea to privatize the Long Island Power Authority, about a "pension smoothing" proposal for localities and an upstate-only casino plan.

In addition, Cuomo's approval ratings have fallen from heavenly heights to a more mortal stratosphere. And a state legislator compared him to Hitler.

Welcome to year three.

After scoring an array of political victories in his first two years in office (and the first month of 2013), Cuomo appears to be facing a few hurdles as he enters his third year, and, some say, positions himself on the national stage.

The political stakes aren't as high as in Cuomo's first two years, when he successfully pushed a new property-tax cap; cuts to school aid and government-employee pensions; and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

By comparison, this year's controversies seem like smaller hurdles. But there are plenty. Some observers said the issues will test the governor's ability in a way the first two years in office did not.

Going into a critical time

"If Andrew Cuomo wants to go farther in politics, he needs to know how to deal with adversity after success," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "How to stop a slide in the polls. And how to manage blowback. . . . So this is a critical period for him both in his political and policy life."

Former State Sen. Michael Balboni called the turbulence a "natural evolution." The Nassau County Republican said Cuomo's 70 percent approval rating last year couldn't be sustained over the long haul.

"Cuomo had an extraordinary two years," Balboni said, noting the governor had worked closely with the GOP. "But at some point, Republicans have to prove their independence."

For his part, Cuomo said his third legislative agenda is the least controversial, "far and away." He downplayed the idea of growing tensions at the State Capitol.

"This is the third agenda that I've put forth and everyone has been disagreeing on one item or the other because there are different philosophies," the Democratic governor said. "This year has been remarkable for the lack of differentiation and the lack of argumentation. I think of the three legislative cycles, this has been the least controversial -- far and away, not even close."

Still, a number of his initiatives have encountered resistance.

Long Island leaders have been lukewarm, at best, to the administration's plan to privatize LIPA. They've expressed concerns that the transaction will eventually result in huge rate hikes for consumers after an initial rate freeze. Though both parties are skeptical, Democrats, in fact, have been more vocal in outlining their concerns.

Doubts on a proposal

A Cuomo plan to allow municipalities to reduce their state-pension contributions now and pay more later has generated doubts -- even from Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, whom the governor hand-picked to serve as co-chair of the state Democratic Party.

On casinos, Cuomo last year promoted building the "world's largest convention center" at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, where the owners operate video lottery terminals. But the plan fell apart and now the governor wants to approve three casinos -- all upstate. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) have said downstate should be considered, too.

The governor's nomination for New York's highest court, Jenny Rivera, a City University of New York law professor, faced the roughest judicial confirmation process in decades as Republicans questioned her lack of courtroom experience.

And, last week, several Republicans blasted Cuomo for rapidly pushing through a comprehensive gun-control bill last month. Assemb. Steve McLaughlin (R-Melrose) called the governor dictatorial and said "Hitler would be proud" -- a remark that triggered quick condemnation by other legislators and an apology from McLaughlin.

Cuomo's approval rating in the Quinnipiac University poll plunged from 74 percent at the end of 2012 to 59 percent after enacting the gun bill -- with support slipping especially among Republicans and independents. A Siena College poll found a less precipitous drop, from 71 percent to 67.

Pollsters noted that Cuomo's rating still would be the envy of most governors, and that he's enjoyed one of the longest political honeymoons in recent history.

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