Behind New York's Budget

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Chris Smith, contributing editor for New York Magazine, talked about the negotiations that led to the agreement on a budget in New York between the governor and the legislature.

How the Governor Got What He Wanted

Chris Smith said that Governor Cuomo shrewdly capitalized on the deep, longstanding unpopularity of the state legislature. As strong as Cuomo's approval ratings have been, Albany politicians in the Senate and Assembly had little leverage against his budget.

He was going to get his way no matter what, and pass his budget with some nibbling around the edges by one way or another. He positioned himself as a compromiser, bringing everyone around the table, allowing discussion in a way that hasn't happened in New Jersey or Wisconsin. Ultimately, the terms are Cuomo's; whether they arrive this week or next, it's all going to be virtually the same.

Getting Health Care on Board

Cuomo also brought health care workers and providers into the fold at the perfect time: A year ago. Smith said the governor was right to start court the lobbies early, as they're about to be hit with Medicaid cuts and other budget constraints.

The healthcare workers union 1199 and the Greater New York Hospital Association bought into the governor's Medicaid redesign task force to mitigate whatever cuts they could, instead of what they've done in the past, which is be in direct opposition to whoever was governor, spend millions on ad campaigns fighting as ferociously as possible against any cuts. Cuomo went to them very early in the campaign and brought them in...It was something very smart, getting out front, getting those people on board, saying we're going to make cuts but not being specific in just how big cuts were gonna be until the last minute.

Where's the Mandate Relief?

Smith said there was a conspicuous absence from Cuomo's platform thus far; the governor's Medicaid redesign team and now the budget seem to have swept his promise for unfunded mandate relief under the rug.

Governor Cuomo talked a lot about reducing mandates, programs that the state compels localities to install, but doesn't nec give them the money to perform those things. Mandate relief hasn't happened.

Cuomo's Political Philosophy

While there's plenty in Cuomo's budget to stymie lower and middle class New Yorkers, Smith said that the governor's maneuvering elucidates a silver lining for progressives.

In many ways, Cuomo's budget is regressive. People who use public hospitals, public education, public transit are going to feel it most severely...

Cuomo chose not to take the unions on, to make them enemy, destroy them, take away all the things they've collectively bargained through contracts over the years. I guess that's hopeful. He still philosophically believes that government can do good things and is necessary. A lot of particulars of this immediate budget don't follow through on that broadly, but he's still a believer in left of center politics.

And About That Millionaire's Tax...

Say goodbye. Governor Cuomo has opted to let a surtax on the richest New Yorkers expire this year, as scheduled. That's raised hackles among less wealthy populations who say they're going to feel the pinch more. However, Chris Smith said the governor's decision reflects an attempt to stay in line with another part of his agenda: Restoring the state's trust in Albany.

He thinks that what the state government really needs to do is get back to being dependable. The surtax was passed two years ago as a temporary tax extension; New York state needs to do what it said it was going to do and let it expire on schedule. Yes, those dollars would have mitigated some of the  pain, but he believes government needs to get back to being functional, to being predictable.