ALBANY — More than 40 elected Democrats made a rare attack on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his proposed cuts to the party’s priorities of education and health care as the state tries to trim a $10 billion budget deficit, according to a letter obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
In a letter to the state Democratic Party and the governor, the Democrats railed against Cuomo’s budget policies, calling them “neither balanced nor well-conceived” and warning that they would hurt children and the elderly.
The group said Cuomo was not exemplifying what a “new Democrat” should be. The governor started using the term at last year’s Democratic convention to describe a pragmatic official in hard fiscal times.
“According to the governor, that is what it means to be a ‘new Democrat,'” the letter said. “According to the governor, this is the path to becoming ‘the most progressive state in the nation.’ If this is what it means to be a new Democrat, and if this is what it means to be progressive then something is very wrong.”
The group said it couldn’t remain silent while “the tea party, the Conservative Party, Republicans and a group of wealthy Wall Street executives are cheering the governor’s policies.”
Charlie King, executive director of the state Democratic Committee, downplayed the Democrats on the list, saying he “recognized only some of the names.”
“The New York State Democratic Committee recognizes the state’s fiscal crisis and stands strongly in support of Gov. Cuomo’s budget,” King said. “The lack of state legislators on the list would have been the more fair and important story to write. On any issue, given the nature of the Democratic Party, you should be able to find hundreds of differing opinions given the thousands of Democratic officials in the state.”
Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter is signed by Democrats on city councils and other legislative bodies in New York City, Albany, Binghamton, Kingston, Monroe County, Rockland County, Broome County, the town of Danby, Tompkins County, the village of Hempstead, Buffalo, and Ulster County.
Cuomo won by a huge margin in the November election on a platform to clean up Albany and curb decades of spending and overtaxing. The popular former attorney general voiced the outrage seen in public opinion polls that politics and special interests have made state government unaffordable to taxpayers. His fiscally conservative stand that opposes tax increases is most strongly supported by the Senate’s Republican majority and in the polls.
Last week’s Quinnipiac University poll found strong support for Cuomo and continued disfavor for the state Legislature. It also showed strong opposition to cuts in education and health care. Cuomo’s $132.9 billion budget proposal would cut spending 2.7 percent.
The group urges Cuomo and the party to abandon proposed cuts to school aid, prescription aid for the elderly and other cuts to education and health care. Instead, the group is pushing for Cuomo to continue a temporary surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $200,000 a year. The income tax surcharge is scheduled to expire this year, although it could bring the state as much as $5 billion.
The group said letting it expire would be a “massive tax break” for millionaires while schoolchildren and other vulnerable New Yorkers suffer.
“If the new Democratic Party is acting like conservative Republicans, I don’t want any part of it,” said New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, one of the Democrats who signed the letter.
“Elected public officials, it’s their duty and responsibility to stand up for justice and equality of all people,” Jackson said in an interview. “We’re speaking truth to power.”
Later, Jackson issued a press release saying the letter wasn’t an attack on Cuomo.
Catherine Fahey of Albany’s Common Council also said the effort wasn’t “anti-Cuomo.”
“It is really disagreement over the budget and questioning the priorities he’s setting,” said Fahey, who signed the letter. “Most people don’t want cuts in those areas. It should be a last resort.”
This isn’t the first time Democrats have tested the governor.
On Thursday, veteran Democratic Assembly Richard Gottfried of Manhattan leveled some criticism at Cuomo’s Medicaid task force report that will result in cutting some services and funding to hospitals. Gottfried, who was on the task force, said the final report has good ideas, but there are concerns, too. His comment was met with a blistering statement from Cuomo’s spokesman that Gottfried “has been the protector of the Albany status quo and special interests for years.”
The next day, Gottfried and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a joint statement saying they were optimistic the task force report would result in long-term financial stability while safeguarding care.
Days before, Democratic New York City Councilman Charles Barron led a disruption of Cuomo’s speech to black and Latino lawmakers with chants of “Shame on you!” and “Tax the rich!”
Five of those who signed the letter noted they were part of the group called the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.