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Cuomo's State Of The State Speech Comes As New York Faces A Deficit

Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a luncheon on Monday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver his State of the State message on Wednesday, at a time when New York faces its worst budget deficit in a decade. Cuomo has already given a number of hints of what might be on his agenda.

New York begins the New Year facing a $6 billion budget gap, and closing the deficit is likely to dominate the session.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and a longtime Albany observer, says lawmakers are facing a big challenge.

“The big gorilla of the session is how are they going to deal with the budget deficit,” Horner said. “And that’s not easy.”

The main reason for the deficit is growth in spending on Medicaid. Governor Cuomo’s budget officials have already suggested delaying a Medicaid payment into the next fiscal year, for the second year in a row to partially offset the gap. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said his Democratic members will look at new revenues, and he has not ruled out raising taxes on the wealthy. His counterpart, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, says raising taxes is not the first option that she would consider. It’s an election year in 2020, and some Senate Democrats, including Stewart-Cousins, represent parts of the New York City suburbs, where new taxes are particularly unpopular, and they worry Republican opponents could make them a campaign issue. 

Cuomo, speaking at a business lunch on Monday, said he’s not planning to include tax increases in his deficit closing proposal. He says he disagrees with the views of many politicians that “more money” is the answer.

“There’s not necessarily a correlation between more money and a better product,” Cuomo said.

The governor also hinted that he might not accept proposals to raise spending on school aid. The State Board of Regents has recommended a $2 billion increase.

“You are already spending more money per pupil than any state in the United States of America,” Cuomo said. “But you are in the middle when it comes to performance.”

Cuomo says the rising health care costs that have fueled the deficit also have to be “addressed structurally.”

Horner, with NYPIRG, says closing the deficit could force lawmakers, who face elections in 2020, to make some unpopular choices.

“In an election year, the legislature is not going to want to do cuts,” Horner said. “It’s a tricky balance.”  

Cuomo has already released more than 30 separate State of the State proposals in the past couple of weeks, and most would not immediately cost the state much money. They include banning single use plastic foam containers, cracking down on underaged vaping, and studying how to bring high speed rail to New York.

Some of his plans could even bring in revenues for the state. Cuomo is expected to announce a proposal to legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana.

Melissa Moore with the Drug Policy Alliance, says profits from the legal sale of cannabis should also be directed to help people in communities who were adversely affected by the decades-long marijuana prohibition.

“By reinvesting tax revenue back into exactly the communities that have been the hardest hit by criminalization and the war on drugs,” Moore said. “And making sure that we are building up those communities.”  

The governor’s speech comes in the wake of several violent incidents of anti-Semitism, including a knife attack at a rabbi’s home north of New York City during Hanukkah that injured five people, one severely. The governor, at the business group lunch, says he’ll address the issue of the growing number of hate crimes in his speech, and will propose a bill to create the crime of domestic terrorism.

“Because these people are domestic terrorists, and I want them prosecuted that way,” the governor said, to applause.

Whatever the governor proposes, the legislature is going to have less time this year to act on it. The session is going to be a few weeks shorter this year. The adjournment date is set for early June, instead of the traditional end of the month. That’s because, for the first time, primaries for state offices will be held in late June, and lawmakers will need time to campaign.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.