By Edward Krudy
ALBANY, N.Y. Jan 8 New York Governor Andrew
Cuomo pressed signature issues such as cutting taxes,
revitalizing worn infrastructure and boosting the upstate
economy in a wide-ranging election-year speech in his annual
address on Wednesday.
Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for re-election in November,
delivered his hour-long speech to an enthusiastic audience in
the state capital of Albany. The packed event was attended by
many of New York's political elite, including New York City's
new mayor, Bill de Blasio.
The governor, regarded by some analysts as a possible
presidential hopeful for the Democrats, was keen to stress his
credentials as a strong fiscal manager, projecting a budget
surplus of $2 billion in fiscal year 2016-2017 compared with a
deficit of $10 billion when he took office three years ago.
"Three years ago New York's government was a national punch
line," said Cuomo. "Albany was mired in scandals and
dysfunction. Special interests and their campaign contributors
controlled Albany and the people paid the price."
Albany under Cuomo has passed its last three budgets on time
- the first such occurrence in three decades. In the past, the
state has been known to go without a budget until August, if it
got one at all.
Cuomo will release his executive budget plan, which will
include more detailed figures, in late January. The Assembly and
the Senate have until the start of the state's financial year on
April 1 to make changes and pass a final state budget in the
region of $135 billion.
Cuomo is pledging to cut taxes by $2.2 billion over the next
three years. That will include a two-year freeze on property
taxes worth $1 billion, and a cut in corporate taxes from 7.1
percent to 6.5 percent, the lowest level since 1968.
As part of that tax package, Cuomo is also promising to
scrap taxes on manufacturers operating upstate as he tries to
reverse a decades-long decline in the region, a former economic
powerhouse that has been hit by an outflow of people and jobs.
QUESTIONS ON BUDGET
However, some budget experts have questioned whether Cuomo's
$2 billion projected budget surplus is attainable as it relies
on capping state spending growth at 2 percent.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who was also at the
event, released a statement after the speech criticizing $5
billion in temporary funding that he said the state was using to
support the current budget and stressed the need to tackle the
parlous state of many upstate municipalities.
"Despite a stronger national and state economy, many
municipalities across New York face real fiscal issues that need
to be addressed," DiNapoli said.
Cuomo also pledged to introduce universal pre-kindergarten
statewide. That was likely an olive branch to de Blasio who is
building a grassroots campaign to persuade Albany to allow him
raise to $530 million by increasing city tax on wealthy earners.
The mayor's calls to raise the tax rate for people earning
over $500,000 from 3.86 percent to 4.41 percent clashes with
Cuomo's tax-cutting agenda and is likely to meet opposition from
Senate Republicans who have a power-sharing agreement with a
group of breakaway Democrats.
Cuomo is mindful of de Blasio's strong support in New York
City and opinion polls showing broad support in the state for
universal pre-K. De Blasio says he wants to push his plan to tax
high earners even if the state does find funding for universal
"The previous three mayors - Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor
Giuliani, Mayor Dinkins - all came to Albany asking for the
opportunity to tax their own people for crucial initiatives," de
Blasio said at an impromptu press conference after Cuomo's
"In each and every case Albany respected the right of New
York City to make its own decision. I believe that trend will
continue," de Blasio said.
Cuomo also announced plans for a limited use of marijuana
for medical purposes that would allow certain hospitals to treat
people suffering from serious illnesses. Although tougher than
laws in other states that allow marijuana for medical use, the
move is a significant shift on the issue for Cuomo. New York
would be the 21st state to allow medical marijuana.