It's hard to believe Andrew Cuomo has only been governor for a year. It seems like forever. Perhaps that's because he succeeded two not-quite chief executives, David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer.
And then there was George Pataki, who was last seen wandering around New Hampshire, waiting for someone to ask him to run for president.
And before that it was Mario Cuomo, who, if you closed your eyes, might have been delivering Wednesday's State-of-the-State address. The early Mario, before he got so fed up with the entire process that he began to ad lib wildly, on one occasion comparing the assembled legislators to monkeys.
But there were no monkeys in Andrew's repertoire. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and GOP Senate honcho Dean Skelos were greeted with verbal bouquets and a round of above-the-belt remarks. A slide show that accompanied the governor's speech showed Skelos and Silver dressed in children's clothing and holding hands. Such was the pure-hearted cooperation of the men who run the legislature!
Last year worked so well by New York standards that the populace probably presumes the governor will be able to pull it off again this year -- deliver a budget that looks serious and reformist, yet carries no major pain for any of the state's powerful interest groups.
He certainly made it sound that way.
Cuomo promised to spur economic growth by building the nation's largest convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Cuomo also pledged to pump $1 billion into downtrodden Buffalo in a bid to revive the ailing upstate city. Shoveling billions into the state's infrastructure is also on the governor's agenda, including as brand-new Tappan Zee Bridge.
Taxes? Not to worry. Cuomo promised to hold the line on state spending and close a $2 billion budget deficit with no new taxes or fees.
Last year, Cuomo caved on a pledge not to raise taxes by skillfully merging a tax hike for millionaires with tax cuts for the middle class. "We provide a middle-class tax cut at the lowest rate in 58 years," the governor crowed to about 2,000 onlookers who gathered at an underground convention hall in Albany.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey used to vow that if New York raised the tax on millionaires, he'd urge them all to move to his state. Now's the time, millionaires. If you're mad as hell and won't take it any more, the Path train's running.
The governor wants to generate additional revenue by legalizing casinos, or "destination gambling" as it is sometime called. "Let's amend the (state) constitution," Cuomo said. (A helpful slide depicted a New York State pockmarked with tribal casinos and surrounded by presumably hostile casinos in other states.)
Cuomo will never be compared to William Jennings Bryant or even his father when it comes to public speaking, but he delivered a fairly good one-hour performance.
Over the holidays, he had presided over a traditional open house for winners of an I-want-to-see-the-governor's-mansion lottery. In keeping with the budget constraints, the guests only got cocoa. Sandra Lee, Cuomo's long-time partner and Food Network celebrity, got plaudits for her role as chief greeter. "Cuomo, by contrast, seemed almost dour in a gray business suit and graying hair, a tired air and forced joviality delivered through clenched teeth that approximated a smile," sniped the Albany Times-Union.
But Cuomo was smiling and cheerful on Wednesday. Maybe he's warming up for the late-winter budget negotiations with Silver and Skelos. It's cold and gray in Albany in March. Even people who live in Albany don't want to be in Albany in March.
Maybe they could sell tickets to those final three-men-in-a-room negotiations. Call it "destination lawmaking."
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