With his poll numbers still high, Cuomo is barnstorming the state again, hoping to pass another ambitious slate of bills before the current session ends June 20.
Yesterday, the governor brought his "People First Campaign" to the Olympic region, pushing for ethics reform, a cap on local property taxes, and a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. Chris Morris has our report.
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More than 200 people packed the brand new Conference Center at Lake Placid to hear Governor Cuomo lay out his agenda and his goals for the current legislative session.
Before Cuomo took to the podium, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau told onlookers that the North Country hasn’t received this much attention from Albany since another Cuomo was in office decades ago.
“Here in the North Country, we’re not really used to getting a lot of attention from Albany, much less than the governor himself,” he said. “Unless of course we reflect upon the first Governor [Mario] Cuomo – who visited the North Country many times and was a tremendous partner and ally in our economic development.”
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi also heaped praise upon Cuomo, noting that he has strong support among taxpayers, business owners, and elected officials as he looks to capitalize on the momentum he began building during the budget season.
“The politicians in Albany may not want to do it, but we know, and the governor knows, that this agenda is what this state needs to get back on the right track,” he said.
And it was that apparent disconnect between lawmakers and the people that underscored Cuomo’s presentation. At every turn, Cuomo seemed to draw a line in the sand – with him and the people of New York on one side, the state Legislature on the other.
He did dole out some credit, noting that lawmakers passed an on-time budget earlier this spring – a budget that made substantive changes in Albany.
“This was a much different experience than in the past,” Cuomo said. “The budget was honest, there were no gimmicks in it, it was balanced, and it was on-time. Government actually performed.”
But that’s where the praise stopped. Turning to property taxes, Cuomo told the crowd that New York counties rank among the top tier nationwide. On average, property owners in the U.S. pay about $1,900 in taxes annually.
In New York, that number nearly doubles to $3,700.
“The very simple truth is that New York has no economic future as the tax capitol of the nation,” Cuomo said. “Businesses will leave, people will leave – we know that, because we’re experiencing it.”
Cuomo’s plan would cap property tax growth for school districts and local governments at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. And his plan leaves little wiggle room for governments who have no other choice – for school boards, it would take a 60 percent vote to pass a budget raising taxes more than the governor’s cap. For local governments, it would require a two-thirds vote by lawmakers.
This proposal has been a hit with taxpayers, but not everyone is sold.
“Everybody wants a property tax cap, but nobody wants the services cut that are provided to them,” said Randy Douglas, who chairs the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
He says the governor needs to attach meaningful mandate relief to a cap on tax growth. Otherwise, governments like Essex County will be forced to make significant cuts to services.
“The governor’s cut this year was $300,000 out of home health care for Essex County,” Douglas explained. “If a property tax cap went through, it’s $130,000 and every $130,000 is one percent on the tax levy. Right there, if we cut that program, there’s our two percent. Those are the issues we’re faced with in Essex County as government officials.”
Cuomo is calling for mandate relief and Douglas says he’s confident that specific action is forthcoming.
In addition to a property tax cap, Cuomo also wants lawmakers to pass real, meaningful ethics reform in this session.
That means establishing an independent ethics commission and mandatory disclosure of outside business dealings.
“My bill says, disclose to the public private clients that you represent before the state government,” Cuomo said. “And disclose how much they pay you for that service. And my point is that when you refuse to answer that question, you just did answer that question.”
With pictures of disgraced politicians like Alan Hevesi and Joe Bruno flashing across a screen to his right, Cuomo said the notion of a self-policing legislature is outdated – laughable even.
“Self policing is an oxymoron,” he said. “By definition there’s no such concept as self-policing. We need an independent monitor to restore faith, so people know that’s a government that works for them in Albany and you deserve that and you’re going to get it.”
This week’s event had all the flair and energy of a campaign stop – while speaking on a tax cap and ethics reform, the entire room burst into applause, interrupting Cuomo’s speech.
But when Cuomo spoke of marriage equality, pockets of spectators were noticeably reserved.
And this particular agenda item might prove to be the biggest challenge for a governor who, up to this point, has experienced nothing but victory. Passage of a gay marriage bill is a sure bet in the Democrat-controlled Assembly – but the Senate’s GOP majority could represent a major roadblock for Cuomo.
Cuomo says legalizing gay marriage would restore New York as a leader in progressive politics.
“Five, ten years from now, we will look back and say, ‘We can’t believe there were states that didn’t allow gay people to marry just because they were gay,’” he said.
Cuomo is calling his agenda the “people’s agenda.” He wants all three of these bills on his desk by June 20 – if that doesn’t happen, he warns that legislators shouldn’t bother going home.
For Cuomo, the coming weeks represent a philosophical battle for control of government.
“Will the government respond to the people of this state, the citizens of this state, or the lobbyists who roam the hallways in Albany?” he asked. “It’s about the people versus the politicians. And who’s going to win? Well, are we going to put the people first? That depends on you. It depends on what you do.
And what Cuomo wants is for New Yorkers to tighten the screws on lawmakers. With recent polls showing overwhelming support for his agenda, that wish just might come true.