Republicans and Democrats in both houses of the New York State Legislature met Wednesday to hear a very long State of the State message about the issues affecting their political perspective and their districts.
For each governor, this is the speech to paint the great objectives for the year - objectives that are usually sandblasted with reality a few weeks later when the budget message is delivered, explaining where the cash will come from and where it will go.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo listed many objectives, some of which will cost and some that are more philosophical. East Amherst Republican Assemblymember Ray Walter heard a much greater theme than just a quest for a third term in Albany.
"Preview to his presidential speech for the 2020 race," said Walter, "clearly, he has laid down a marker that he wants to be the progressive candidate, Democratic candidate for president in 2020. Unfortunately, what that does is that it leaves out hard-working middle-class Upstate and Western New York taxpayers."
Walter noted "a lot in that speech for New York City and Long Island, but very little for Upstate and Western New York." He said the state has lost 1 million citizens and although the governor has to come up with a plan to deal with that, the assemblymember suggests tax and regulation cuts would work better rather than lawsuits against Washington.
In the Southern Tier, Gowanda Republican Assemblymember Joe Giglio said he did not hear enough of his rural and financially struggling region.
"Everything seems to have a negative effect on us and our part of New York," Giglio said. "As you listen to those speeches, you basically hear about the huge metropolitan areas and the huge population centers in the State of New York. We don't have those. We're rural. We have lost a lot of any of the economic might we had as far as manufacturing."
Giglio said his district faces a problem unusual in the legislature: dealing with the attractions of Pennsylvania down the road and its economic and tax policies, like natural gas fracking.
On the other side of the aisle, Buffalo Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes said she heard some help for Buffalo schools in a tough budget year.
"It will be doable - reason being the largest parts of our budget is education and healthcare," Peoples-Stokes said. "I think the proposals to focus on, schools that have the most need is not so much a creating new dollars, but restructuring the dollars that you have."
A major difficulty with that is financially and academically struggling school districts are the reality in much of the state, with economic decline in many towns and cities.
Peoples-Stokes said she also had hoped to hear something about getting rid of the Kensington Expressway.
"A piece on infrastructure. I think it's important that we focus on infrastructure," she said. "I would have loved it if I could have heard something about restoring our community, restoring the 33 in the Hamlin Park neighborhood."
There has been planning money to recommend what might be done about the highway, but there has not been a final report.
“Although I am glad that the governor did not continue his game of political hide-and-seek with the legislature as we saw last year, wasting large sums of taxpayer money to present over 20 ideas with unsubstantiated legislative backing or confirmed funding sources amounts to little more than an expensive taxpayer-funded speech," said Republican Assemblymember Steve Hawley in a statement. “I am glad to be back in Albany continuing to work hard for the residents of Genesee, Orleans and Monroe counties with my focus on lowing our families’ tax burden, making New York more business friendly, fully funding our infrastructure and continuing to reform our charitable gaming laws.”
State senators are also studying the governor plans for 2018 in Albany. Tonawanda Republican Sen. Rob Ortt said there has to be more attention paid to the state's weakening economic position, saying it is an argument for tax and regulation cuts.
"What that comes back to is that New York State is a high-tax state," Ortt said. "We have had a net loss of migration, net loss, and there are a lot of economic indicators both Upstate and statewide that I think need to be addressed and the time, as I think he would agree, is now."
That is going to be fought out between now and April 1, when the new budget is slated to start.
Buffalo Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy said he wants to maintain the momentum of the Buffalo Billion and Buffalo Billion II.
"When you look at what we've done over the course of the last several years and you see where we are at today and you think about the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been focused on Buffalo and Western New York in redeveloping and transforming our community and creating jobs at the same time, to be able to sustain that is so important," Kennedy said. "It's so important that we put a continued priority on economic development and job creation, that we focus on areas where the next generation of New Yorkers are going to be able to go to work, to set down family roots here, to be able to raise their families here and to get gainful employment."
Everyone involved is pointing to a projected deficit as high as $4 billion in the new spending plan and that is likely to be a focus of the annual budget struggle. Ortt said the governor had laudable goals, but did not explain how he would pay for them in a deficit situation.
"There weren't a lot of details as we have become accustomed to with these sorts of speeches, a lot of grand pronouncements, a lot of broad strokes but not a lot of details, specifically how do we close the $4 billion deficit, which he brought up a number of times," Ortt said.
"I agree with the Governor that this will be a difficult year in terms of state finances, but I also share his optimism that out of this budget challenge we can find new approaches to solving our State’s problems," said Buffalo Republican State Sen. Chris Jacobs in a statement. "My disagreement with the Governor’s remarks is he places the blame solely on our local governments and school districts....This year's budget challenges should focus on our collective attention on funding the core and fundamental functions of government and the alleviation of unnecessary and unfunded mandates and regulations on local governments and businesses."
Reaction also came fast from other lawmakers.
“New York is leading the way in the fight against climate change and under Governor Cuomo’s resilient and affordable energy policy, the Empire State is standing up for our planet," said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster in a statement. "It is our responsibility to ensure we are protecting our environment for generations to come and Governor Cuomo is laying a significant foundation and strategy to make even greater progress on clean energy and a green economy. We know the fight against climate change is far from over, but under these new initiatives New York has a solid plan to address this pressing issue head on.”
Clarence Rep. Chris Collins issued the following statement:
"The Governor's speech was a pathetic attempt to rile his base, although even they have realized that his political empire is crumbling judging from the fact that the loudest round of applause came when he mentioned the Buffalo Bills. Republicans under President Trump have lowered taxes, rolled back regulations, and are seeing explosive economic growth. In comparison, under Andrew Cuomo, New York is facing a $4 billion deficit, the New York City subway is crumbling, and the FBI has opened an investigation into his hiring practices. New Yorkers deserve better."
Southern Tier Republican Rep. Tom Reed issued a similar statement:
"It is disappointing that Gov. Cuomo cannot put his own self-interests and political ambitions aside for the benefit of New York. Countless businesses have announced increases in wages, benefits and investments in local communities--all of which will enhance our economy and help create jobs. Tax reform works and hardworking New Yorkers deserve to keep more of their money. Our state has one of the highest tax burdens in the country. I call on the governor to follow our lead and cut taxes at the state level, rather than sling misinformation to try to deflect from his poor record as governor."