ALBANY — The party’s over. Now Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo faces the monumental job of correcting New York’s sinking fiscal ship that will put him in a position of having to cut spending to the special interests that helped fund Tuesday’s overwhelming victory.
Before he even paints his name on the office door, he faces an $8 billion deficit with a $20 billion hole projected in the coming years. There is a constant drumbeat of complaints about high taxes scaring away businesses. Layoffs planned by his predecessor loom and unions are spoiling for a fight over the proposed cuts.
“The urgency of the economic crisis facing New York state demands immediate preparation,” said Kenneth Adams, president of the Business Council of New York. This fall, the group that is dominated by upstate corporations and small businesses made its first political endorsement, choosing Cuomo over Republican businessman Carl Paladino.
“He supports our fiscal reform agenda,” Adams said Wednesday. “It is now time to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to make that agenda real.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman, knows what awaits Cuomo.
“Andrew ran on a campaign of ‘I’m going to change it, I’m going to fix it,’” Bloomberg said. “He’s not going to have all the tools that perhaps he might have liked, but that’s the job. He wanted it, he’s got it and I think he’ll do a very good job.”
Cuomo will need to work with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who heads the most powerful force in Albany, protecting school and health care spending, usually assuring increases while other areas are cut. In the Senate, Republicans are waiting on a handful of races to see if they take back control from Democrats, which would give Cuomo an ally that supports cuts in spending and taxes.
“The mandate is to clean up Albany and have elected officials who represent the people of this state, and not the special interests and not the lobbyists,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo promised “a government of competence and performance and integrity.” But it apparently won’t be a government of tax cuts.
The national Tax Foundation called New York the most hostile tax climate in the country.
“New York must lower taxes and spending to become competitive again and the new governor understands that,” Adams said.
But in the closing days of the campaign, Cuomo started to release some specifics about his broad plans to revive New York, saying no new taxes or borrowing would be a “tremendous feat” alone. Asked by a reporter if he would cut taxes, Cuomo said: “Down the road? If you can stabilize? Would you like to get to a place where you can cut taxes? Absolutely.”
He also has cast doubt on Democratic Gov. David Paterson’s announced plan to layoff nearly 900 workers by Dec. 31, the last day of the present administration. Cuomo said he will begin assessing that situation Jan. 1.
Although he didn’t win the historic mandate of 69 percent of the vote Gov. Eliot Spitzer took, Cuomo still won almost every section of the state, including Paladino’s upstate base.
“The people have spoken tonight and they have been loud and clear,” he said Tuesday night with his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and his mother, Matilda Cuomo, at his side. “They are angry they are paying for an economic recession they didn’t cause. “They are frustrated when they look at the dysfunction and degradation in Albany.
How specifically he will do that remains unknown. But he has borrowed during the campaign from some top figures in the Spitzer and Paterson administrations. Among them is Paul Francis, the widely respected policy expert brought in by Spitzer who churned out several small books of broad policy plans for Cuomo.
Cuomo also made it clear in closing days that he had a model, and a hint that his administration has some grand and potentially expensive plans, too.
“I was a kid, 22, 23 years old,” Andrew Cuomo recalled this week. “But I saw my father and I saw the people in the Legislature, Democrats and Republicans, and I said this is what I want to do with my life. These people are here to make this a better place and the people of honor, and people of integrity, and people of commitment and they are debating real issues, that make a difference to me and my family, and this is what I want to do.”
Andrew Cuomo’s view of the past doesn’t quite match the Mario Cuomo years from the mid-1980s until his loss in 1994 to Republican Gov. George Pataki. High spending, rising taxes, deficits, late budgets, and the most infamous fiscal gimmick of all — having the state sell Attica prison to itself — all happened during Mario Cuomo’s tenure, along with its own string of corruption scandals.
Cuomo can expect a pass for now.
“Electing new governors usually gives New Yorkers a sense of optimism,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll. “Whether Cuomo will bring a sense of optimism to New Yorkers and then be able to deliver on that optimism are the questions we will need to see how the people of this state answer moving forward.”