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Analysis: For some, Cuomo's State of State sounds presidential

ALBANY – Facing a $4 billion deficit and what he labeled a federal "assault" on New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday worked to establish himself as a bulwark of progressivism against Donald J. Trump's Washington and policies he claims "shot an arrow aimed at New York's economic heart."

Whether the Republican-dominated State Senate cooperates with him now remains a major doubt.

But, after Cuomo's 92-minute State of the State message that challenged the president on all sorts of levels, there is no doubt as to where the governor stands.

And if it enhances his run for a third term as well as speculation that he might even bring his beefs directly to Trump in 2020 — well, that might be OK, for some people, too.

"I would like to see him run for president. I think he would be an excellent president," said Mayor Byron W. Brown, Cuomo's state Democratic chairman.

"The governor made it clear this state has not yet begun to fight," he added.

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, seemed to sum up Cuomo's looming agenda of balancing the state budget in the face of new challenges from Washington while keeping one eye trained on a national candidacy.

"This speech is clearly a presidential speech," she said, immediately after the address. "At the same time, we've got to get past this budget."

That sentiment dominated the opening day of the 2018 legislative session. Cuomo has a state to run, and claimed repeatedly Wednesday that Trump and a Republican Congress are not making it any easier.

At one point, he even explained the ancient concept of "e pluribus unum" — "out of many, one" — and challenged Trump to "turn around" in his Oval Office chair to read that inscription on the presidential flag.

It all seemed to buttress the role Cuomo is enthusiastically embracing of challenging Trump and the new tax overhaul policies he says deliberately aim at Democratic states like New York.

"Our federal government is working to roll back so much of what we have done," Cuomo said, reciting a litany of progressive policies he says are threatened by Republicans in Washington.

"We cannot, we must not, let those things happen in the great State of New York," he added.

Cuomo plans overhaul of state tax codes, will sue to block federal bill

For Democrats, the speech provided a reinvigoration for many of their progressive policies. The state's Planned Parenthood president, for example, seemed thrilled by Cuomo's annual defense of abortion rights because of the threats she sees emanating from Trump's Washington.

"Based on all the federal attacks, it's a relevant issue," said Robin Chappelle. "There's definitely a federal threat to reproductive health care and abortion rights that the state can't ignore."

The word "progressive" seemed to enter many Capitol conversations Wednesday, especially among Democrats.

"I think it was a very Democratic message, progressive message," Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie told reporters.

Cuomo worked hard to underscore his traditional theme that government can work as a force for good. He asked hundreds of invited guests to stand and represent what he called the seven-year accomplishments of his administration.

They included those he said benefited from legalizing same sex marriage, increasing the minimum wage, establishing paid family leave and prosecuting violent police.

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, also supported Cuomo's rebuff of Trump and said the governor has already established the credentials for a national platform.

"I think we have to come together as a state and nation to fight this upside down and wrong-sided mentality of the Washington elite," he said. "The decisions being made in Washington today are hurting people in New York State."

Republicans on Wednesday urged the governor to examine his own policies before criticizing Trump and Washington.

Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Williamsville, also thought Cuomo was polishing his presidential resume during Wednesday's speech. He just thinks he should adopt different methods.

"Was it Iowa or New Hampshire we were today?" he asked, referring to the early presidential contests of 2020. "It was definitely a presidential preview."

"But here's the issue: he wants to blame the federal government for everything while we've lost 1 million people since 2010, long before there was a President Trump," he said. "Let's concentrate on creating good paying jobs."

None of this escaped the attention of top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who said Cuomo was too Washington-centric in his address and not focused enough on state priorities for transportation, health care and other major areas of the budget.

"One of the things I wish (is that) there had been a lot more discussion on is the actual State of New York and we run our own government,'' he said, adding Cuomo spent a "tremendous" amount of his speech on federal policies and not enough on the more than $150 billion New York spends each year.

Other Republicans like Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said changing Albany's economic approach might render moot Cuomo's criticism of Washington.

"I share his concern about tax cuts in New York, but maybe we should take care of our house first," he said.

Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Clarence, cited traditional Republican concerns about the Cuomo approach — with or without a looming presidential bid.

"It’s time to remove the barriers that inhibit growth in our upstate economy and enact policies that stem the consistent loss of population of past decades, such as enacting comprehensive regulatory reforms and cutting energy taxes," he said. “We should also seriously consider eliminating expenditures for the state’s economic development programs that are not creating jobs, including Start-Up NY and the tens of millions of dollars being spent on television advertising by the executive."

Potential Republican candidates for governor also weighed in, claiming Cuomo was paying more attention to Washington than to his own backyard.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb of Canandaigua, who has announced his candidacy for governor, offered a list of traditional GOP complaints.

"The governor’s White House dreams seem more ambitious than the agenda being set for New York," he said.

Former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who Wednesday said he is also running in November, sounded very much like a candidate.

“What he really said, in what sounded like a presidential speech," he said, "was to give more to everyone in the state without saying how it was going to be paid for or how to close a $4 billion to $8 billion budget gap.”

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