By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
The first Governor Cuomo (Mario) was fond of saying that “politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.” What he meant was that political campaigns are filled with lofty sounding rhetoric, but leading a government takes practical and carefully detailed policies. The place to actually look for what public officials mean to do and their priorities is found in the budget each year. That is the vehicle to literally put your money where your mouth is.
Last week the legislature and the governor put the finishing touches on the state budget for the new Fiscal Year. It was passed during the Passover Seder and hours before Easter Sunday. One thing for sure: There was no candy for Mayor de Blasio in those Albany Easter eggs. Mostly just bitter herbs.
Andrew Cuomo, who has never been shy about reacting to real or perceived slights, is using his powers as governor to the fullest extent to belittle and damage Bill de Blasio. However, he is doing a disservice to the people of New York City. It does not matter how this rivalry began. It has morphed into full-scale war. To make things even more interesting, both men fancy themselves as the progressive champion and alternative to the policies of President Trump. And there is not enough space for two such gargantuan egos in the same room or from the same state.
Last month, de Blasio took the fight up a few notches by tacitly backing the candidacy of actress Cynthia Nixon to run against Cuomo in the Democratic Primary for governor later this year. And so Cuomo has weaponized the state budget against de Blasio. And given the fact that the budget process in this state is heavily controlled by the governor, any governor, it is difficult for the legislature to expunge ideas that they may think are bad or resulting from petulance.
So we see the spectacle of Cuomo undermining mayoral control of New York City schools by requiring local school districts to report their education spending practices to the state with the threat of withholding state funds from New York city if those expenditures do not pass state muster. To make matters worse, the budget does not contain all the education money for New York City.
The governor is mightily trying to shift responsibility for shoring up the century-old failing subway infrastructure from the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on to the city taxpayers. The capital needs of our tracks and tunnels, platforms and rolling stock are in desperate need of modernization. New York City residents already pay a disproportionate share of maintaining the entire downstate regions public transportation systems. The governor thinks that New York City should bear an even greater share. And to add insult to injury, the governor has cut millions of dollars from badly needed rent protection enforcement mostly geared for New York City tenants.
The governor is also trying to take over control of a large swath of territory on the West Side of Manhattan, near and around Penn Station, so that the governor and not the city can control how that area is developed in conjunction with upgrading Penn Station which is in dire need of refurbishment. The governor is also preempting the mayor on issues dealing with critically needed repairs for public housing buildings long neglected by this mayor and his predecessors, as well as trying to circumvent the mayor on closing the Riker’s Island detention center, before an alternative location for accused felons is identified.
The prose contained in this state budget is handwriting on the wall that spells political trouble for this mayor and this city. It is a battle that Cuomo has the advantage, and is winning. But it’s a fight that does nobody else any good.