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So Much to Do

Gov. Andrew Cuomo managed to get an on-time budget. What is next on his agenda?

by Elyse Beaudoin on April 20, 2011

After managing to bridge a $10 billion deficit gap with the first on-time budget in five years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is celebrating and likely counting his political capital. But what will he spend it on?

“Cuomo has every reason to be proud of what was accomplished,” said Sen. Hugh Farley (R-Schenectady). “To pass a budget, on time, while taking care of a $10 billion deficit, without raising taxes, was remarkable.”

Despite the celebration, there is still much that needs to be done. Cuomo’s major legislative priorities include ethics reform, independent redistricting, and a property tax cap. Some legislators, particularly democrats, are also eager to get started on a health insurance exchange and rent control.

“He should be taking the congratulations tour,” said Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Delmar), “but now there is a lot more that needs to be done before June.”

Cuomo is planning an ethics overhaul. He has proposed legislation that would create an independent ethics watchdog committee, as well as legislation that would require lawmakers to disclose outside income.

“Republicans don’t have any problem passing ethics reform,” said Farley. He went on to say that he would not necessarily support a watchdog committee. “We don’t need another committee.”

If the Senate fails to pass ethics reform legislation by the end of the session, Cuomo has threatened to enact a Moreland Commission.  This century-old reserved executive power would allow the governor to investigate ethics in state government.

“The Moreland Commission may be the hammer that is needed to drive the legislators into agreement with ethics reform,” said Adam Kramer, Assemblyman James Tedisco’s chief of staff.

Cuomo is also pushing for a property tax cap that would limit state property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. New York state has the highest property taxes in the United States, but some worry that this, combined with cuts to government funding, could negatively impact schools. This property tax cap is expected to be coupled with mandate relief and new rent control regulations.

“I am in favor of all of these things,” said Breslin, “ethics reform, rent control, the property tax cap, and independent redistricting.”

Independent redistricting is one of Cuomo’s major focuses. He vowed to veto any legislation that would not create an independent redistricting panel. Some Republicans are opposed to the idea.

“I think it has to be fair and equitable redistricting,” said Sen. Farley. “I don’t think there should be a panel.”

Democrats, however, seem to be in favor of the redistricting panel, which could cause the Republicans to lose the majority. Sen. Breslin agreed with an independent redistricting, as did Kramer.

“There should be an independent, bipartisan commission, unrelated to the legislative body,” said Kramer.

Another major issue among Democrats is the health insurance exchange, legislation that would aid citizens without health insurance in finding affordable coverage. This is in conjunction with the Federal Health Care Reform Act.

“I applaud trimming state spending and making Medicaid more efficient,” replied Breslin when asked if the budget cuts would interfere with his legislative heath care goals. “I don’t think budget cuts will affect this.”

Others aren’t quite as confident in all of Cuomo’s budget cuts. Mr. Kramer, although in support of most of the budget plan, was concerned that some of the cuts would “impact real people.” He also said that legislators were not cutting enough of their own funding and “leading by example.”