Cuomo, legislators let voters down
Back in January, I wrote that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech was a little like “Forrest Gump” — a rousing crowd-pleaser that aimed to offer a little something for everyone.
Now that this year’s legislative session is winding down, I’m curious: Did the governor deliver on his promises? Did lawmakers address the issues voters care most about? Do New Yorkers feel satisfied with their work?
It’s hard to see how the answer to any of these questions could possibly be yes.
News reports indicate that lawmakers are unlikely to vote on a number of big issues before session ends on June 19, which means that voters hoping for an increase in the minimum wage and public campaign financing will be disappointed. Even medical marijuana, which seemed poised to pass the state Senate for the first time ever, is on shaky ground: On Monday, Senate Finance Committee chairman John DeFrancisco said he had no plan to move the bill out of committee.
Earlier this year, business groups were frustrated by the governor’s decision not to push for reform of the state’s scaffold law, which holds contractors and property owners 100 percent liable for any gravity-related accident in which they are at least partly at fault. Some groups are hoping Cuomo would lift the state’s moratorium on fracking, but officials have indicated that there won’t be a decision until after the election in the November.
Every year, there’s a long list of bills and issues that go unaddressed by the Legislature.
But doesn’t it seem like this year has been particularly uneventful?
In previous years, we’ve had movement on hot button issues such as gun control and gay marriage during the Legislative session. This year, we’ve mostly had gridlock.
On Monday, Cuomo himself told reporters to expect little from the state over the next week.
“We have a little more government work to do,” he said “We have some cleanup items. I don’t expect us to do any major legislative initiatives.”
Part of the problem is Cuomo’s decision to actively help the Democratic Party win control of the state Senate, something he has resisted in the past but agreed to do this year to win the support of the Working Families Party. As a result, the coalition of Republicans and Democrats receptive to working with the governor on key issues will likely stop dealing with him.
And does anybody really expect lawmakers to do anything bold or groundbreaking in an election year?
It would be wrong to say that the governor and Legislature haven’t done anything this year.
They’ve done plenty of things.
The budget for 2014-2015 includes plenty of things, such as $1.5 billion in property tax relief and $1.5 billion in funding for universal pre-kindergarten. But the impact of these measures remains to be seen.
For instance, the property tax freeze is a two-year program, which raises questions about whether it will provide lasting relief or is simply an election-year gimmick. And while universal pre-K sounds good, it’s unclear how much upstate will benefit.
A recent survey by the New York State School Boards Association showed that only about 14 of the 282 school districts surveyed planned to add or expand pre-K programs next year. The districts cited concerns over funding, saying they didn’t know how much money they would receive from the state and noting that the money will be distributed in the form of reimbursements, meaning that districts would be required to spend their own money on pre-K and then wait for the state to repay them.
I find it interesting how much hype accompanies the legislative session, and how little there often is to show for it.
Universal pre-K is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
For a brief period of time, it was one of the biggest issues in the state, as Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio skirmished over how best to fund the program. But now it’s mostly fallen off the radar, and few districts seem interested in taking advantage of the state funds.
A New York Public Interest Research Group analysis of the 2013 legislative session found that 66 percent of all Senate bills were passed during the last month of the session, and that 36 percent of those bills passed in the final week.
So there’s still time for the Legislature to get stuff done.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.