New N.Y. Gov. Cuomo pledges to take on ‘powerful interests’
Democrat focuses on fiscal problems, lets tax on wealthy expire
Democrat Andrew Cuomo was sworn in Saturday as the 56th governor of New York, pledging fast action to address the state’s deep financial problems as he assumed the office once held by his father.
Pledging to take on “powerful interests and long-entrenched patterns of behavior,” Cuomo said he will not intervene to stop the state from carrying out his predecessor’s plan to lay off 900 employees, and he said he will seek to allow a temporary tax on the wealthy to expire.
“ Too often government responds to the whispers of the lobbyists before the cries of the people,” Cuomo said in a brief inaugural speech. “Our people feel abandoned by government, betrayed and isolated, and they are right.”
The state faces a $1 billion deficit now and a projected $10 billion deficit in the next budget due April 1. The income tax surcharge, promoted by Democratic supporters as a “millionaire’s tax,” raises more than $1 billion annually and affects some NewYorkers making as little as $200,000.
Many Democratic lawmakers have argued extending the temporary tax wouldn’t be a new tax because it was enacted in 2009, and Cuomo said he has heard the arguments that wealthier New Yorkers need to contribute more.
“I understand the semantics argument,” Cuomo said. “I say: ‘No new taxes, period.’ ”
Cuomo’s predecessor, David A. Paterson (D), has said he ordered the layoffs, which began Saturday, because union leaders refused to contribute $250 million in concessions in the face of New York’s fiscal crisis. For weeks, Cuomo refused to say if he would continue Paterson’s order. His decision risks incurring the considerable wrath of the unions, which have successfully derailed past governors.
The measures were the first test of Cuomo, the former state attorney general, who ran for office promising to end Albany’s notorious overspending for special interests that led to some of the highest taxes in the nation.
“We have to start with a new attitude,” Cuomo said. “We will be taking on powerful interests and long-entrenched patterns of behavior, and change is very, very hard. . . . It’s time for a bold agenda and immediate action.”
Cuomo, 53, sought to set a serious, no-frills tone in his inauguration, which was far shorter and less elaborate than those of past governors. In attendance was his father, Mario Cuomo, whowas the Democratic governor from 1983 to 1994.
Political commentator Lawrence Levy, attending his seventh inauguration, said it was “more informal, more direct in keeping with the symbols of austerity and change” Cuomo has been rolling out.
“But in the end, he’s going to need the minister’s prayers to get this done,” said Levy, dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. “A lot of people are very entrenched in their ways and have a lot to lose by changing.”
Cuomo said there is not just a fiscal deficit in Albany but a deficit of competence, integrity and trust. He invited Republicans, who will control the state Senate beginning Wednesday, to join him in a collegial effort that’s been lacking in the highly partisan Senate over the last two years.
“A governor’s inherent power is limited,” Cuomo said. “ A governor’s potential power is limitless. The potential power of the governor is to mobilize the people of the state of New York.”
Cuomo avoided referring to Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos as majority leader, although legislative titles of Democrats were used. Cuomo also mispronounced Skelos’s name, something Democratic Assembly speaker and Skelos adversary Sheldon Silver does. Afterward, Skelos and Cuomo both laughed off the slights.