ALBANY – It’s an election year so politicians will make some bold claims.
On a “town hall’’ telephone conference call Tuesday night with an unknown number of residents in a large geographic area of the state during which he called into question the constituent loyalties of state lawmakers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talked of the state’s fiscal restraint since he’s taken office.
“They told me I could never reduce costs. The state is spending less money than they have in 50 years. I spend less money than the preceding 10 governors, Democrats and Republicans,’’ Cuomo told listeners.
The 2014 state budget, when it is expected to be adopted by its March 31 deadline, should end up totaling somewhere north of $140 billion.
Fifty years ago, the total 1964 state budget came in at $2.4 billion, according to the official Red Book, an annual publication about state government.
Cuomo aides this afternoon clarified the governor’s remarks to say that his budget division estimates that the rate of the growth of state spending during Cuomo’s three years in office has been lower, as an annual percentage, than the budgets by governors going back until the late 1950s.
The Cuomo administration produced a two-page document showing the annual growth in “adjusted spending’’ is lower than that of his predecessors. The administration defines that figure as excluding extraordinary federal aid, such as seen following Hurricane Sandy or federal stimulus money that came during the recession.
The governor’s telephone call to residents Tuesday night – in a geographic area from the Albany area south to Orange County – is part of a furious last-minute campaign to try to convince voters to pressure their state lawmakers to go along with his property tax freeze proposal, an idea that has gotten resistance from Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature with just 12 days to go before the state budget adoption deadline.
Billed as a “town hall’’ conference call, the 25-minute session led by Cuomo was paid for by his re-election campaign account, officials said Wednesday.
Cuomo has been promoting his tax plan each day so far this week – in Albany on Monday, Utica on Tuesday and Rockland County this afternoon. He is pressing his case that his property tax plan is needed because there are too many local government units in New York state. He puts that number at 10,500; the U.S. Census Bureau puts it at about one-third Cuomo’s claim.
The call came after Cuomo met for two hours behind closed doors with legislative leaders, a session the lawmakers called productive. But in the call to residents, Cuomo spent time bashing the very state lawmakers he needs to support his plan.
At one point in the call, Cuomo blamed obstacles his plan is facing on local government officials who he says don’t want to cut costs. His plan envisions a property tax cap in two years that will offer a modest rebate to New York homeowners but only if their local taxing unit – be it a county, town, school district or other level of government – agrees to cut spending by either merging with another neighboring community or sharing services, such as human resources, purchasing or other back-shop or other functions.
Responding to a question from someone from Albany County about where the Legislature stands on his plan, Cuomo said, “They don’t like it because the local bureaucracies, the local political bureaucracy, doesn’t [like the plan].’
“How does the political system work? You have an assemblyman, you have a senator. They have local governments in their districts … Local governments are going to legislators saying don’t pass this bill and the legislators are very responsive to the local political system because that’s their political operation. Let’s be honest,’’ Cuomo added. “That’s their political supporters. I’m trying to go to the homeowners in the district so the homeowners say to the legislator, ‘Hey, they may be your political crony, but I vote for you and I pay your salary and remember me in your equation.’ ’’
The seven questions posed by callers were brief and anything but hardballs. “You seem very passionate about requiring schools and local governments to share services or consolidate. Why do you feel so strongly about this, sir?’’ asked “Vincent’’ from Chester in Orange County.
It is unclear how many such regional calls Cuomo has made.
The governor said local governments are resistant to his plan because they don’t like change. “Somebody says to you in a relationship, ‘You know, we need to make changes.’ They’re normally saying you need to make changes. They’re just fine the way they are. Typical husband and wife dynamic. ‘We need changes. Yeah, it’s you that needs to change,’ ’’ Cuomo said.
The governor said his plan is crafted as a way to put political pressure on local government officials by residents in their communities who will be denied property tax rebate checks if local spending is not curtailed during the freeze period. Cuomo ended the call with a direct appeal for action by residents on the line. “I need your help,’’ he said, adding that their voice matters.
“Please, please, call your assemblyman, call your senator. I don’t care if you get through. Just leave a message that says, ‘My name is Mary. I’m a constituent. I talked to the governor last night. His plan makes sense. I need my taxes cut and I want you to support the tax cut plan.’ If you do that, it will pass,’’ Cuomo said.