ALBANY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office has been on a public relations blitz this week, rolling out daily tidbits of what he will be proposing Jan. 8 in his annual State of the State address.
The bid to get Cuomo’s name in headlines in an otherwise slow news period – impeachment vote in Washington notwithstanding – has included plans to toughen rape laws, ban Styrofoam containers and, on Friday, increase penalties for non-Indian stores selling untaxed cigarettes.
What there hasn’t been is any bold and big announcement involving the spending of state government dollars.
It is a bow to the fact that Albany is facing its worst operating deficit – $6.1 billion – since the first year Cuomo took office in 2011.
The governor has not revealed his ideas for closing that gap yet. That will come in January, and then lawmakers will have their turn considering a way out of the fiscal mess.
But the red ink is offering a bit of a departure for Cuomo’s State of the State lead-up period.
For his 2018 State of the State preview, Cuomo – in the first nine advances – promoted a $225 million local government “shared services” plan, $100 million for downtown area development plans and $7 million to improve the wastewater treatment facility in Niagara Falls.
Last December, in touting his 2019 State of the State, he talked up a $150 million state infrastructure spending plan.
In the first nine previews his office has released this week for the Jan. 8 address, none have had any disclosed costs to the state government.
Some of the ideas will cost someone, like the restaurant and food industries that will have to find other ways to package beverages and food without Styrofoam.
Cuomo’s latest advance came Friday – most are released about 9:30 in the morning – with word that he will increase penalties against retailers who sell untaxed cigarettes they may obtain from sources that could stretch from other states to Seneca Nation cigarette traders. Penalties could include closure of their retail shops or loss of their retail beer, liquor or wine licenses.
Cuomo said he will also include in his 2020 budget plan higher penalties for shops that illegally sell cigarettes to people under the age of 21.
One fiscal watchdog was unimpressed that Cuomo hasn’t suggested some big spending program at a time of such a big deficit for the state.
E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the past spending examples of Cuomo’s pre-holiday State of the State rollouts for the most part involved money that had already been allocated and, courtesy of lawmakers, came from pots of funds controlled directly by Cuomo.
“He was repackaging capital plans. It was not new money,’’ McMahon said of the example of $150 million for infrastructure spending in last year’s advance by the governor.
“You will begin to see dollar signs soon … and it won’t be real money. And I’m not complaining about that,’’ said McMahon, whose group has long complained that Albany has a spending problem.
Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, noted that “fiscal issues are covered in the budget."
"In the meantime," Azzopardi said, "the governor’s proposals build upon the progress of the last nine years and will improve the lives of New Yorkers from Western New York to the east end of Long Island and every point between.”