ALBANY – It wasn’t a typical State of the State message in which the state’s chief executive moans and groans over the lack of resources to achieve all his lofty goals.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after all, is rolling in a $5.4 billion surplus this year as a result of various bank settlements with state law enforcement agencies.
But in the combination State of the State and budget messages for 2015 that he delivered Wednesday, the Democratic governor still is managing to present a spending plan hailed as bold and innovative by even some Republicans, while others view it all as “out-of-control spending.”
And Cuomo was not afraid to make Buffalo a centerpiece of the case he laid out Wednesday. He repeatedly cited Western New York as a successful laboratory for economic development, citing a surging job and housing market within the City of Buffalo.
“It felt good to be held up as an example of how to do economic development in New York,” said Paul A. Dyster, Democratic mayor of Niagara Falls, who was attending the annual State of the State event at Empire State Plaza.
And even Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin of Clarence, a member of the GOP legislative hierarchy, saw potential in the sweeping educational reforms Cuomo proposed that could butt heads directly with powerful teachers unions. While she criticized much of his spending proposals, she said that it will be “interesting” to watch various special-interest groups react.
“I am, however, very intrigued and hopeful of many of the education reforms proposed in the governor’s agenda,” she said. “I believe that we should provide teachers with all of the tools of training and support they need to best educate our children, in addition to incentivizing teachers that excel in the classroom.”
She predicted a tough struggle over proposals such as providing as much as $1.1 billion in new education investments if reforms aiming to lessen the effects of bureaucracy are adopted.
“Let’s be realistic,” said Corwin, who is normally opposed to most Cuomo programs. “There will be stakeholders coming at him from both sides.”
Democrats such as Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Dyster seemed thrilled about Cuomo’s proposal to invest some of his settlements windfall in expanding broadband access across the state. And rookie Sen. Marc C. Panepinto, D-Buffalo, said the success of Cuomo’s economic-development approach is evident from millions in private sector investments in Buffalo.
“We’re making him look good because the private sector is moving in,” Paneointo said.
But Cuomo’s traditional opponents remain unsure. State Conservative Chairman Michael R. Long said the governor proposed so many new ways to spend taxpayers’ money that his agenda was “out of control.”
“There was nothing about really lowering taxes, and it was all about public solutions – nothing from the private sector,” Long said. “He may have said some good things on education, but it’s still too much spending.”
And his statewide Republican counterpart, Edward F. Cox, labeled the speech as an “hour and a half of committing to everything.”
“If you commit to everything, you commit to nothing,” Cox said, adding that Cuomo’s attempt to expand a system of teacher evaluations in New York amounts to an admission that Cuomo’s previous policies have failed.
“If it hasn’t worked with what he has now, can he get a commitment to an even huger evaluation system?” Cox asked.
Then again, Cuomo’s 2014 Democratic primary opponent – Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout – said the governor presented a plan that “privatized” education and minced no words about his dismissal of spending more money to solve education problems.
“Our schools are $5.7 billion short in funding, and everybody knows that won’t involve throwing good money after bad,” she said. “Instead of funding them, he’s holding every one of those kids hostage.”