If it seems that New York’s high taxes and its upstate economy dominate the state’s contest for governor every four years – they do.
Now the 2018 campaign appears to be right on track as Republican Marc Molinaro and Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo traded statewide barbs Tuesday over the challenger’s plan to reduce property taxes by nearly 30 percent. Molinaro convened reporters to a Lancaster subdivision to tout his claim of more than $1,000 annual reduction in median taxes in Erie County under his new plan, while Cuomo told business leaders in Bolton Landing that his eight years as governor have sparked a roaring economy throughout the state.
“If I had said to you on Day One this is what we’re going to do, you would have said, ‘impossible’ ... These results are more than any of us had a right to hope for,” Cuomo told the Business Council of New York State in a 30-minute stump speech that sounded much like his remarks before the group when he ran for a second term four years ago.
A day earlier, Molinaro characterized a different New York in his own speech to the Business Council, contending that job growth in many parts of the state lags behind the national average, where property taxes are displacing homeowners and a much-used statistic that 1 million New Yorkers have left the state since Cuomo has been governor.
But among new homes sprouting in a Lancaster subdivision, Molinaro claimed Cuomo has failed to rein in programs like Medicaid and that he will not “rob Peter to pay Paul” to finance his new plan.
“This is a tired old argument that generally incumbents like to make, which is that you can’t save money unless you’re cutting things,” Molinaro said. “Are we suggesting that the [Medicaid] system is as effective and efficient as possible? And the answer is no.”
He painted a picture of some state agencies unsure of their mission or responsibilities, and said a refocus on goals looms as a first step. Regulations also need to be examined, he added.
“What I mean by right sizing is: Identify the outcome, measure success, and if we’re not achieving it, then right size to address it,” he said.
Molinaro, who is expected to release various aspects of his plan over the next few days around upstate and Long Island, expanded on his more general remarks delivered Monday to the Business Council at the Sagamore Resort on Lake George. Some highlights include:
- A state takeover of Medicaid
- Making permanent the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and extending it to New York City homeowners
- A statutory state spending cap and banning tax hikes without a super majority vote in the Legislature
- “Broad and sustained” mandate relief
- Modernization of service delivery to achieve efficiencies and guarantee outcomes
Molinaro’s plan reflects much of what previous GOP candidates for governor have also sought, with little success. And he did not address how he might gain legislative approval of his plans, especially if Democrats win the Senate in November and control the Capitol.
But he zeroed in proposals as Albany taking over Medicaid, which he called the most significant aspect of the plan. He predicts more efficiency under one layer of government – the state – rather than the 57 counties outside New York City.
“By requiring the governor to be responsible for certain aspects of state government you start to create greater accountability, he said.
“Local governments have been responsible for your share,” he said in response to Cuomo. “If you’re not willing to take responsibility to make Medicaid more efficient, then certainly serving poor people and those with disabilities doesn’t seem to be a priority.”
But Cuomo in Bolton Landing called the Molinaro plan “a sham.”
“State picks up $7.6 billion from Medicaid,” he said. “Yeah great, and then where does the state get $7.6 billion?
“You’re going to have to raise taxes on the state side or you’d have to cut education,” he added. “You couldn’t even cut Medicaid because you’re increasing Medicaid, so you’d have to take that out of education or you’d have to raise taxes...So, it’s just a shell game.”
The Cuomo response to Molinaro appeared coordinated and focused. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner criticized the plan, as did Mayor Byron W. Brown, the state chairman.
“His current proposal consists of the typical, failed Republican gimmicks that have been on the shelf for years,” Brown said. “Now, in a desperate attempt to save face, he is peddling the same old ideas to distract from that reality.”
In Sagamore, a reporter pointed out a different reality to Cuomo: people are still leaving upstate.
“Yes, that is a demographic fact,” Cuomo said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that young people are moving to upstate New York. We have more jobs than ever. Our taxes are lower than ever.”
The governor said people have long left upstate for other regions of the country, some for a warmer climate in places like Florida, or for personal reasons. But he said upstate residents no longer leave New York in search of jobs.
“People were leaving upstate New York because they had to in the past … That is no longer the case,” he said.
In his speech before the corporate executives, Cuomo stayed away from items he pushed through the Legislature in his second term – such as a hike to $15 per hour in the state’s minimum wage for some areas of the state and a paid family leave program. Both items were key priorities for organized labor, which is strongly backing Cuomo in his 2018 re-election bid.
Instead, Cuomo told the business group – which endorsed him in 2010 and 2014 – of record infrastructure spending and his administration’s effort to lower the rate of growth in state spending, which provided money for personal and business tax breaks.
“This state was in trouble,” Cuomo said of the period when he took office in 2011 and inherited a $10 billion deficit and a troubled economy.
The Tuesday morning audience was polite, laughing at a couple of Cuomo’s jokes. His remarks, though, were not interrupted with any minor or major outbursts of applause.
Afterward, Cuomo was asked why he provided little insight into what he might try to accomplish if he is re-elected. Indeed, some parts of his speech went back to talking points he has been using since he was the state’s attorney general prior to his election as governor in 2010.
Cuomo said the audience of corporate leaders wanted to hear what he has done as governor, much as a corporate board might do when considering whether to extend a CEO’s contract.
“That’s a question voters should ask: Have you performed?” Cuomo said.
Cuomo also sidestepped whether he might be trying to secure the Working Families Party ballot line for the general election against Molinaro. Cynthia Nixon, the activist Cuomo defeated in the Democratic primary, is on that line for the November general election. There had been talk that she might try to maneuver her way off that line – which might not be so easy given that she is not a lawyer and there is no traditional judicial ballot contest to which they could dispatch her as a way of freeing up the minor party’s line for Cuomo.
Forces within the Working Families Party are adamantly opposed to Cuomo getting their line, especially given the nasty rhetoric between the party and Democrats in the primary. But Cuomo has run on their line before and it is seen as an opportunity for him to gather liberal votes on the minor party line.
“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Cuomo said when asked if he would try to run on the Working Families Party line.