Legislators and Albany Watchers Struck by Cuomo's Tough Tone on Spending

Freezing worker salaries, slashing the size of government by 20 percent, capping property taxes and delivering health care at a fraction of today’s cost: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first State of the State speech was, according to one pundit, just what you’d expect….from a Republican.

“You know that Andrew Cuomo succeeded with Republicans when Mike Long, the chairman of the state Conservative Party comes up to you and says, ‘So, how’d you like the speech that I wrote?,” said Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

“This was a speech that George Pataki could have given. This wasn’t a speech his dad could have given,” said Levy, referring to Cuomo’s father, three-term New York Governor, Mario Cuomo.

“The son of the man who rebuked Ronald Reagan, in 1984, for his shining City on a Hill, spoke for 48 minutes, the most important speech of his life talking about cutting billions of dollars for services, and never once threw out the bone that even Republicans feel obliged to do, that we’re gig to make sure the poorest and those who truly deserve help get it,” said Levy.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari said up until recently, he could not have imagined such a fiscally conservative agenda “coming from a Cuomo. But times have changed," he added. ”I would not have expected this a few years ago coming from a Democratic governor.”

“And some of it is still unsettling, like a pay freeze,” he said. “And a flat-out rejection of any type of tax increases or fees — I don’t know how we as legislators, working with the governor, can solve this budget gap solely with cuts in programs.”

“I don’t know how that works,” he said.

The closest the younger Cuomo came to embracing the liberal mantra of his father’s era was when he spoke about children and the juvenile justice system. “But he framed it in terms of eliminating jobs that weren’t justified and protecting the civil rights of people basically convicted of crimes,” said Levy. In other words, it was more of social justice rooted in economic pragmatism.

Other lawmakers said Cuomo’s speech struck the right tone — cooperating with legislators to quickly turn around the state’s economy, etc. — but final judgement is still reserved pending more information about how exactly the governor plans on reducing state expenditures.

“The question is not changing Medicaid or reducing it, but how,” said State Senator Kevin Parker, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “I’d like to see the details of those plans.”