Here’s the No. 1 takeaway from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s eighth State of the State speech: He’s running for something. Whether it’s just a third term as governor or a first as president was impossible to deduce, but the evidence for both was there.
The second takeaway is that he’s got oratorical stamina. He spoke for more than 90 minutes, offering few details about how he proposes to confront an economically difficult budget year while castigating the federal government and praising the enterprising spirit of New Yorkers.
But for details on how he wants to deal with a yawning deficit of $4.4 billion, those New Yorkers will have to wait until Cuomo unveils his state budget blueprint later this month. That was the elephant in the room, and it was studiously ignored.
It’s not just the deficit, either. Federal spending cuts may penalize the state even as the new federal tax law increases the burden on New Yorkers. Cuomo justifiably used a large section of his speech to castigate that law, which even some conservatives have recognized as reckless.
Much of the speech is what all such addresses are: a recitation of accomplishments that Cuomo wants New Yorkers to hear, even as he deftly shared credit with state legislators. That’s how such speeches unfold every year, but is especially useful as Cuomo prepares for what most observers presume will be a campaign for a third term.
To do so, and surely remembering the spirited primary challenge he endured from the left four years ago, Cuomo sounded more traditionally liberal on issues than he did in 2010, when he was first elected. They included some ideas that most New Yorkers could easily support, regardless of party: dealing with sexual harassment of women; protection for whistle-blowers; colorblind justice. Others, supporting abortion rights and union workers, will break on the usual fault lines.
On the matter of justice, he proposed reforming bail policies so that poor people aren’t automatically consigned to jail while awaiting trial even as wealthier defendants are able to post bail. On paper, it’s a sensible policy. Making it work in practice will be the test.
But that describes, in some way, the essence of Cuomo’s leadership. Recalling the administration of his father, the late Mario M. Cuomo, the governor said New Yorkers need “practical politics” – designed to serve the needs of residents. It’s hard to argue with the point and not to notice how far Washington has strayed from that standard.
Among the practical policies he advocated were:
• Pushing the Thruway Authority to implement cashless tolls across the highway system.
• Changing regulations to encourage development of self-driving vehicles.
• Allowing same-day voter registration and early voting.
All are worthy goals.
Cuomo spent only a little time on ethics, acknowledging that legislators believe they’ve already done a lot, but insisting that they must do more. He called for an end to outside income for lawmakers, which would work only with a substantial raise, and even then has its downsides. But on the overarching point, Cuomo is indisputably correct. The state remains an ethical cesspool, as the continued existence of the LLC loophole documents. He called again for closing it.
In the end, though, while the speech called for practical politics, it left hanging the practical response to a gaping budget deficit. That will tell the tale on Cuomo’s approach to the watershed year of 2018.