Group in Crosshairs of Cuomo Budget Cuts Take to the Airwaves

There are just six weeks until the New York State budget is due, and groups affected by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $10 billion in cuts have begun stepping up their efforts to win public support for alternatives — like extending a tax on the rich.

Cuomo has proposed $1.5 billion in school aid cuts in his budget plan. But, after a month of behind-the-scenes lobbying and a mini-protest at hearings, the state’s teachers union is hitting the airwaves in an attempt to convince lawmakers to get funding by extending an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $250,000 a year. The temporary tax is scheduled to end December 31.

New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi said the ads will soon air in major television markets around the state.

“We will be doing a significant media buy on the issue of who should be sacrificing, whether it’s the wealthy or school children,” Ianuzzi said.

The ads mark the beginning of Albany’s traditional budget ad wars, where groups potentially affected by spending cuts take to the TV airwaves to make their case to the legislature, and in some instances, to attack the governor.

Cuomo has his own weapon, the Committee to Save New York, a group of business leaders and real estate developers, who have in the past promised to air their own counter attack ads. The governor also held a $15,000-a-head fundraiser at Rockefeller Center Thursday evening for his election campaign. He is not schedule to run for another 3-1/2 years and invitations to the event said that Cuomo needs help in order to "enact change."

Cuomo has said repeatedly he is against extending the so-called millionaire’s tax. At that same budget hearing, disrupted by protesters, Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy told lawmakers that he believed schools could absorb the cuts without harming children or, in some cases, laying off teachers. Duffy said schools can simply use reserve funds or left over federal stimulus monies, freeze teacher wages and cut administrative salaries.

“When you have salaries of $300,000 plus, I think there a number of economies that can be made,” said Duffy.

Cuomo is also proposing nearly $3 billion dollars in Medicaid cuts. One element that’s been absent so far from the traditional budget battle is negative television ads from the hospital and health care workers union lobbies. In the past, those ads have caused former governors to back down from health care cuts.

Hospitals and other health groups can’t run TV spots right now because they don’t know exactly what the cuts will be. Most of the stakeholders agreed to serve on a Medicaid Redesign panel run by the Cuomo Administration. That panel has to agree on the cuts by March 1.

Dan Sisto, President of the Health Care Association, the state’s largest hospital lobby group, who is on the panel, said if the group fails to meet its deadline and Cuomo imposes his own cuts, there will be less than a month left to build support for restorations.

“If we don’t come up with the ideas, then we have a very limited time frame to lobby the legislature to avoid the cuts,” said Sisto.

The Medicaid panel has listed many of the group’s proposed cuts on it’s website, but no one knows for sure which reductions, if any, the panel will finally agree on.  

Public worker unions are also holding their fire for now, saying they will wait to see how contract negotiations go first. Cuomo has threatened up to 10,000 lay offs if he does not win union concessions.

Perhaps because of the lack of a well funded television opposition campaign so far, Cuomo is enjoying all time high popularity in the polls. A recent Siena College survey put the governor at a 72 percent approval rating, with nearly the same amount — three quarters of New Yorkers — backing the governor’s budget plan.