It is expected that in today’s State of the State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will talk a great deal about a list of his priorities, from changes in economic development and education policy to gun control and the need to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy. For some, the big question is how he will pay for what are likely to be big ticket initiatives. It is more than likely that he will come up with items that don’t have large initial costs.
Traditionally, the year before a governor seeks re-election, he will unveil initiatives that will be at least far along enough the following year, to give him a bump in the polls. Such initiatives have costs, and this governor has been careful about paying for what he wants to propose. Gun control (in this case an assault weapons ban) and reforming government departments, such as Empire State Development Corporation, which is likely to be proposed today, are low financial cost initiatives. Others can have hefty price tags.
For example, Cuomo, who said he was going to be the “lobbyist for students” last January, is likely to discuss, both today and in his 2013-2014 budget presentation later this month, a number of education policy changes, from an extended school year to the merger of school districts. Such long overdue changes and reforms have both short- and long-term costs. For example, unless Albany imposes or massively incentivizes mergers among districts, they are not likely to occur.
The big question, especially for a governor who has been trying to keep the budget gap between expenditure and revenues to a minimum, is how to do what he wants at minimal cost.
Pre-Sandy, the gap was thought to be about $1 billion, a number far short of the traditional $4 to $10 billion gap governors and Legislatures have had to grapple with over the last 20 years. While Congress passed a $9.7 billion “downpayment” for Sandy costs in the tri-state area last week, that is far short from what Cuomo and others believe the cost of the natural disaster is.
The result being that Cuomo, ever mindful of 2014, can’t propose costly new initiatives, based on the belief that Washington will deliver what is expected and needed to deal with Sandy, more than $40 billion. In fact, after last week’s melee in Washington over Sandy relief, it seems clear that Washington cannot be depended or trusted on this front.
Which brings us back to the likelihood of Cuomo talking today about grand things that will have a limited price tag or won’t need to be paid for until several years out. One reason is that if he still wants to keep the state Senate’s GOP and coalition with the Independent Democrat Caucus in line, most, if not all, fee and tax increases are out of the question. So expect grand pronouncements today that come with minimal upfront costs.