Cuomo Budget: Spending Plan or a Re-election Agenda?

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Governor Cuomo faces voters in November, and his budget plan, with many of the major initiatives phased in over the next few years, can be viewed as a blueprint for the governor’s own re-election.

Many of the major components in Cuomo’s budget, including universal pre-kindergarten and business tax cuts, take three-to-four years to be fully phased in. Even the property tax freeze is a multi-year proposal.

Implicit in the plan’s success is that Cuomo remains governor for the next few years to carry out all of the proposals.

Larry Levy, with Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, and former longtime Newsday columnist, said a benefit is that voters can judge Cuomo on his promises and decide whether they want to re-elect him in November.

“People now have a plan that they can make a judgment on,” said Levy. “Now they can say ‘Ok, I don’t like the guy, I do like the guy.'"

But a potential Republican opponent to Governor Cuomo, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, said a budget that is aimed at fulfilling promises in the future is disingenuous.

“It’s the biggest joke I’ve seen,” Astorino said. “It is meant to get him across the finish line with a headline. This will never happen.”

Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Megna, warns against reading too much political strategy into the governor’s budget. He said Cuomo is simply being consistent. He said the governor has always said that when the state’s finances recovered a bit, he’d try to find ways to reduce taxes. Megna said now they see a path to do that over the next few years.

“The governor has said from the beginning that whenever there’s a fiscal opportunity to cut taxes because our budget situation has improved, we would do it,” said Megna. “With a lot of major tax increases there’s always a phase in, especially when we think we’ll have more opportunity in the out years.”

Megna said Cuomo has kept spending below 2% a year for his first three years in office, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to continue to reign in spending over the next three years. That is, if he’s elected to a second term.

Astorino said he has not yet decided for sure whether he will challenge Cuomo for the governor's office, but he sounded like a candidate when he visited the Capitol on the day of the governor’s budget presentation.

“I think this state is going in the wrong direction,” Astorino said. “I feel very strongly about that.”

Astorino said he was told he could not, as a Republican, win in Democratic Westchester County. Yet, he’s now achieved two terms.

Governor Cuomo also may be keeping an eye on Astorino, though he is not mentioning him by name. Cuomo made a point of saying in both his State of the State speech and budget address that Westchester County has the highest combined taxes in the nation.