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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State: What to look for

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks before swearing into

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks before swearing into office Laura Curran as Nassau County Executive Laura Curran in Mineola on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is preparing his eighth State of the State address against a backdrop of a widening state deficit, a potential revenue hit from Washington, a beleaguered New York City subway system, an uneasy state Senate and an array of political-corruption trials.

And it’s an election year.

Cuomo, a Democrat who some believe has national ambitions, is set to deliver his speech at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Empire State Plaza adjacent to the State Capitol.

Governors tend to use the speech to recall past successes and outline soaring goals.

Problems? Those typically have to wait two weeks for the governor to propose a budget.

But the address also might give clues about Cuomo’s thoughts regarding the national stage and his stated intention about running for re-election in New York.

“The beginning and the ending of the speech will be the political take-away,” said Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff. “If there is any serious intention about heading off to places like Iowa and New Hampshire,” (sites of the first presidential primary and caucus), “this where it has to start. He can’t sit on the sidelines.”

Here are five things to watch for when Cuomo takes the stage:

  • Confront fiscal stress now or wait until the budget?

Tax collections are running well below estimates and haven’t shown signs of improving. Cuomo himself has said the state deficit is at least $4 billion, but other fiscal watchdogs have said it could grow to more than $7 billion.

“We need $4 billion just to get to zero,” Cuomo said in October. “And that’s without a penny more being spent.”

Cuomo has said he’s considering a proposal to adjust the state’s tax codes. Other than that, he’s offered few details on how to balance the budget.

  • Heavy blame for Trump and the Republican Congress

Cuomo had been vocal in his opposition to the recently-approved new federal tax plan. Specifically, he castigated a proposal to limit the ability to deduct from federal taxes any state and local taxes paid.

He’s even threatened, often, to sue the federal government over the tax plan.

Expect more of the same rhetoric from the Governor Wednesday — and not just on the tax plan. Cuomo increasingly has criticized Republicans on immigration, Obamacare and the environment. It helps place the governor in opposition to the leaders in Washington, one analyst said.

“This will be a New York jingoistic speech — how Washington is working against New Yorkers,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democrat strategist who worked on Cuomo’s 2014 re-election.

  • New initiatives on transit, environment and New York City.

Cuomo has already announced several environmental proposals for 2018, such as phasing out the use of coal in state power plants by 2020.

And he’s also expected to share some idea of how he wants to deal with lingering mass transit problems.

Moreover, he’s recently taken more shots at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, his Democratic rival, over homelessness and the Rikers Island jail, suggesting Cuomo may roll out related proposals in his speech.

  • Democratic unity

Cuomo has had rocky relations with his own party in the Assembly and Senate. He’s called for Democratic factions in the Senate to unite — but not until after the state budget is done, which means April or later. Cuomo will want to lessen any intraparty tensions, Sheinkopf and Miringoff suggested, saying the governor is expected offer proposals to appeal directly to Democrats and lessen criticism from the left.

  • Public corruption

Joseph Percoco, once Cuomo’s closest aide, goes on trial later this month, accused of rigging lucrative construction contracts for favored bidders. Percoco has pleaded not guilty.

It’s one of several corruption trials slated for 2018 that will put a spotlight on government ethics.

But members of good-government groups say they don’t expect Cuomo to say much about the issue.

“Typically, these speeches review and celebrate the successes of an administration,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Corruption in New York is not the thing you’d want to feature. That said, it’s a serious problem. There’s a new trial coming up every month.”

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