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Cuomo knows the way; does he have the will?

In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said starkly that the state “spends too much money.” Faced with a $12 billion deficit, the governor must cut spending. Meanwhile, the Democrats in the state Legislature will hold out for tax and fee hikes as well. But the governor also voiced the concern of New York businesses that “New York has no future as the tax capital of the nation,” and donning our Republican clothes, he pledged “no new taxes.”

So dressed, and at his request introduced to audiences by fiscally conservative Republican state senators, Cuomo is now touring the state to solicit public support. A newly formed business-supported Committee to Save New York is raising $10 million to parry the expected public attacks on Cuomo by special interests.

This is good political theater and good politics, but to prevail, the governor must lead by fully utilizing the uniquely strong executive budget powers granted to his office by the state constitution. He also will need the strong support of the renewed and re-energized, fiscally conservative Republican legislative force produced by recent elections.

High unemployment, reduced home values and huge fiscal deficits defined these elections, with one-party Democratic rule in Albany putting new burdens on already hard-pressed New Yorkers by increasing spending, taxes and fees with each budget. As a result, although New York is among the most Democratic of states, in the 2009 and 2010 elections the voters elected fiscally responsible, pro-growth Republicans at all levels of government.

In the 2009 local elections, pledging to cut spending and to hold down taxes, Republicans won in some of the nation’s highest-taxed counties and brought 13 of the 17 major counties outside New York City under Republican leadership. Subsequently, the very fiscally conservative Democratic executive of Suffolk County, feeling that his party had left him, became a 14th Republican county leader. As prominent Democratic county executives (for example, Andy Spano in 2-to-1 Democratic Westchester County) went down in defeat, Andrew Cuomo first discerned that fiscally conservative Republican clothes might fit him well.

In the 2010 elections, victories by fiscally conservative candidates gave Republicans a new anti-spending, tax-cutting and pro-growth majority in the state Senate and a similarly principled super-minority in the Assembly. Our seven new state senators, including Pat Gallivan and Tom O’Mara, and 17 new Assembly members, including Sean Hanna, Mark Johns and John Ceretto in nearby Niagara County, are a strong force for fiscal sanity and pro-growth policies in Albany.

The field of battle is set, and Cuomo has a considerable arsenal at his disposal. New York’s uniquely strong executive budget powers were devised by Gov. Al Smith (a Cuomo favorite) and added to the state constitution in the 1920s. They provide that the Legislature must act “fully” on the governor’s initial budget proposals with any amendments or additional spending measures subject to his line-item veto, which our Republican forces in the Legislature can uphold. If the Democratic Assembly majority plays “rope-a-dope” and refuses to act on Cuomo’s budget, the governor can enact his preferred cuts in the budget extenders that are necessary to fund the government without a budget.

The state’s highest court has affirmed these extraordinary executive budget powers, and in 2005 the people of New York overwhelmingly voted down a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have eviscerated them. Most importantly, to establish a strong position to use these powers and control negotiations with his fellow Democrats in the Legislature, the governor must lead and make deep unilateral cuts to major programs, such as Medicaid, in his first budget proposals.

If Cuomo leads and puts his political capital on the line, he will have with him in the Legislature a revitalized and strong Republican force, and New Yorkers will benefit from bipartisanship at its best.

New York voters gave pro-growth Republican candidates spectacular victories in the 2009 and 2010 elections. By allying with the governor to win legislative victories for fiscally conservative pro-growth policies, we will earn the support given us on faith by voters in the 2009 and 2010 elections and will continue to grow in strength, even in this most Democratic of states.

Edward F. Cox is chairman of the Republican Party of New York State.

1/28/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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