Andrew Cuomo's accomplishments defy cynicism about government
Last week’s Siena poll showed Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his highest popularity level in two years – a 60 percent favorability rating. Some seemed surprised. While 60 percent is extraordinary in this political climate, and makes Gov. Cuomo one of the most popular Democratic governors in the country, public polling has tracked his steady increase over the past year and a half. The governor’s popularity reflects the new political dynamic more than any change in his actions.
As the recent presidential election has shown, voters are displeased with their government – widely seen as ineffective, unresponsive and controlled by special interests. The middle class is especially disenfranchised. What the public wants is a positive force for tangible change in their lives. That’s what Gov. Cuomo provides.
Of late, Gov. Cuomo has focused on specific accomplishments that defy cynicism about government. New bridges, modern state-of-the-art airports, improved train stations and roads, upstate economic development projects, a minimum wage increase, paid family leave, a state health insurance exchange, increased education funding, improvements in emergency preparedness and new public safety initiatives all relate directly and positively to people’s lives. Seeing is believing: Buffalo is growing after decades of economic decline, tourism throughout the state is booming, the Tappan Zee Bridge is rising in the Hudson River, and the Second Avenue Subway opened to the public on time.
The governor’s 2017 State of the State agenda likewise makes this connection – speaking directly to the lesson of the past election cycle in addressing the angry middle class. His agenda, the Middle Class Recovery Act, provides income and property tax relief, college affordability and jobs for middle- and working-class individuals and families. The Legislature has supported this agenda in the past, notably when the Senate and the Assembly supported the millionaires’ tax extension in 2011. For anyone in the Legislature to now advocate for the millionaires’ tax to expire at the expense of the middle and working class makes no sense, but it also makes the governor's advocacy all the more important.
There have been rumors and news stories that New York might have a late budget this year because the Legislature is angry with the governor over the pay raise issue – which, if true, would be the first time in seven years the budget is late. Having served as secretary to two governors, I remember the dysfunction that took place in 2009 and 2010. Albany was not working; partisanship and infighting resulted in late budgets, budget extenders and higher taxes. Nothing was getting done, resulting in a lack of public confidence in state government.
In 2011, thanks to the strong leadership of the newly elected Gov. Cuomo and a new bipartisan partnership in the state Legislature, government dysfunction ended. We started passing on-time budgets, we created jobs, cut taxes, increased education funding, provided health insurance for over two million New Yorkers, and made New York the progressive capital of the nation when it came to civil and human rights. I don't believe the Legislature wants to return to the days of partisan finger pointing, inaction and chaos.
In fact, it is in the Legislature's best interest to continue this streak of on-time budgets and continue to perform as they have done since 2011. I believe a late budget would make any future pay raise proposal – long overdue for legislators – impossible for Gov. Cuomo to support. The Legislature needs the governor to support and sign a pay raise by the end of 2018, otherwise lawmakers would have to wait until at least 2020 before a raise could legally go into effect.
The Legislature has built a reputation of professionalism, function and performance. That brand would be tarnished if the public thought a late budget was the result of legislative retaliation because of a lack of a pay raise last year.
Last year's election revealed a winning political dynamic: deliver for the people, stand against the institution, rise above partisanship and fight for the middle class and against the special interests. In many ways that has always been Gov. Cuomo’s brand, but the current political circumstances make his particular style of governance especially attractive.
Larry Schwartz is former secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and chief strategy officer at OTG.