Governor Andrew Cuomo defended himself against criticism of last week’s night of dealmaking in an appearance on Fred Dicker’s radio show, “Live From The State Capitol” this morning. While critics say the all night Albany negotiations didn’t allow for public input and went against the governor’s promises of transparency and his pledge to veto redistricting lines not drawn through an independent process, the dealmaking also led to the passage of some of his pet projects; pension reform, the expansion of the DNA databank, lifting the ban on casino gambling and teacher evaluations. Overall, Mr. Cuomo described the marathon legislative session as a success and dismissed critiques of the suite of deals that have been described as the “big ugly.”
“Last week, the government worked it performed it passed bills,” Governor Cuomo said.
Mr. Cuomo started the discussion by discussing listing some of the accompishments he believed were achieved by last week’s all-night negotiations; pension reform, teacher evaluations and the expansion of the DNA databank. Pension reform was vigorously opposed by public employees unions. Though he said he understood the “theoretical point about preserving pensions,” Governor Cuomo stressed the plan will only affect future employees and will prevent future layoffs that would have occurred due to rising costs.
“I believe pension reform was actually in the best interests of public employees who exist today as we know it,” Mr. Cuomo said.
Mr. Cuomo defended his decision not to veto the Legislature’s redistricting lines by reiterating his point the key issue was to focus on amending the process constitutionally for the next round of redistricting in 2022.
“The law is the law and the Constitution is the law. People say, well, the Legislature shouldn’t have the right to draw their own lines. Well, then your problem is the State Constitution,” Governor Cuomo said. “It will end once and for all, and not because people yell about it, but because we’ll change the Constitution.”
Mr. Cuomo also noted he “argued vociferously” in favor of independently drawn lines.
“Most of the critics on redistricting, when you look at it, they tend to be either self-interested for their own politics or hypocritical, frankly,” Governor Cuomo said. “I don’t think the answer to hyper partisan lines is to have a hyper partisan governor.”
Much of the criticism of the lack of transparency surrounding last week’s deals centered on the governor’s usage of messages of necessity, which circumvent the required three-day period for public scrutiny. Mr. Cuomo argued this procedure was the only way to get the deals done.
“In terms of transparency, look I get the point that the more transparent the better,” he said. “Messages of necessity aren’t ideal, the flip side of it, Fred, you have to get something done.”
Mr. Dicker also asked Governor Cuomo if he expected the Legislature to pass the budget prior to the April 1 deadline. Mr. Cuomo deftly dodged the question by listing the key initiatives he’s focusing on in budget talks.
“The budget, what I want to get accomplished is the NY Works program … the energy highway, Tappan Zee Bridge, you know we have a $15 billion energy infrastructure program I want to get approved. So, that’s what the budget is going to be about for me going forward,” Governor Cuomo said.
One thorny question remaining in the budget negotiations is whether lawmakers will be granted the discretionary grant spending known as “member items,” but more commonly referred to by the public as “pork.” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said he supports returning member items to the budget after a three year suspension due to the large budget deficit. Mr. Cuomo said he’s not including member items in his budget.
“I don’t have money for new member items in my budget and I don’t support it,” Governor Cuomo said. “I understand the Assembly’s point of view, I haven’t talked to the Senate about it. The Speaker made public comments on it, but I haven’t put any money for new member items in my budget.”
Redistricting and campaign finance were two of the main factors behind New York receiving a “D” rating in a Center for Public Integrity report measuring corruption across the 50 states that was released yesterday. Mr. Cuomo said he’s aware New York has its issues with corruption after spending four years in the state attorney general’s office, which he described as “probably the most aggressive in modern history” in pursuing corruption cases. That being said, Governor Cuomo doesn’t think the CPI gave enough credit to the work he’s done in his first fifteen months in office and specifically the ethics law he passed that will require further disclosures from lawmakers.
“People don’t even understand the impact of the ethics law yet,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I don’t think they understood what that ethics law was all about or the progress that’s been made in a relatively short period of time.”