Blair Horner: Governor Cuomo Unveils His Themes for Re-election

Jan 13, 2014

Last week, Governor Cuomo delivered his fourth State of the State address.  In it, he followed the typical State of the State game-plan for incumbent governors: he delivered his priorities for the 2014 legislative session, spending much of the time describing past accomplishments and bolstering an image for the election campaign.

The governor is walking a fine line going toward Election Day 2014.  He wants to project the image of a tax-cutting, pro-business governor in order to appeal to independents and moderates in the electorate, while at the same time trying to solidify his standing with his political base, which tends to be more liberal.

In his speech he mentioned the word tax or taxes about 40 times, mostly to assert that his Administration was primarily responsible for driving them down.  The governor announced a sweeping $2 billion tax cut package – mainly to reduce property taxes, taxes on upstate manufacturers and renters.

The governor – who was joined by Vice President Biden the day before the speech – unveiled ways in which he would spend $16 billion in federal disaster assistance for things like weather stations and storm-protected subway stations.

The governor even loosened his opposition to the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions.

Governor Cuomo also announced proposed a $2 billion bond act referendum in the Fall that, if approved by the voters, would be used to improve public schools and enhance their access to the internet, computers, and other smart classroom equipment.  The governor called for universal pre-kindergarten programs.

The governor’s speech ended with pleas for lawmakers to take up the issues of abortion rights, campaign finance and ethics reforms.  His proposals on those issues last year failed, but he urged lawmakers to try again.

Most of the speech was focused on his tax cuts and pro-business themes.  He ignored controversies that would have detracted from those messages.  For example, the governor made no mention of hydraulic fracturing, even though thousands of protestors were gathered outside the state convention center.  He also made little mention of programs that benefit the poor.

By focusing on renter tax cuts, school assistance and medical marijuana, the governor is hoping to solidify his base in heavily Democratic New York City and other urban areas.  His appeals on property taxes and education aid will bolster his popularity in the suburbs.  And his proposal to dramatically lower taxes in upstate should help him in that region.

The governor’s tight rope walk is real.  Despite the often-repeated view that New York is a Democratic state, that party’s enrollment advantage comes from New York City.  Of the 11.7 million registered voters, roughly half are Democrats (5.8 million), while the remainder is almost evenly split between Republicans (2.8 million) and independents (2.5 million).  But if you subtract out the New York City electorate, the Democratic Party enrollment advantage evaporates almost entirely.  And voters outside of the City are more likely to vote than those within the City, so their electoral impact is magnified.

In order for the governor to run and win, he must appeal to the non-New York City parts of the state – parts in which liberal campaign promises generate far less enthusiasm, without undermining his support in New York City.

His State of the State message’s grab bag of proposals was his first step in putting together that winning electoral coalition.

Of course, the State of the State is long on promises and short on specifics.  Most notably, how will the governor pay for increased spending and tax cuts without slashing funding to government services – like he did last year?

But the speech does offer a roadmap into the governor’s priorities and his plans for running for reelection.

How well that rhetoric matches the governing reality will determine how successful the governor’s plan will be.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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