Andrew Cuomo’s Ambitious Agenda

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York. (Getty Images)
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York. (Getty Images) (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

As he begins his second term and adjusts to life without the advice and encouragement of his father, Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to have found his voice. It began with his lovely eulogy for his father earlier this month, and it continued with a series of pre-State of the State announcements designed to reassert control over the state’s political agenda.

In the days leading up to his annual address to the state Legislature, Mr. Cuomo unveiled proposals designed to ease property taxes for some homeowners, cut taxes on some small businesses, and reduce the burden of college loans for thousands of low-income students. His most-sweeping proposal, however, calls for an increase in the minimum wage in New York to $11.50 in the five boroughs and $10.50 in the rest of the state beginning in 2016. The current minimum wage in New York is $8.75 an hour. It was scheduled to increase to $9 an hour next year. The federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour.

The proposed wage increase is welcome because it will put money in the pockets of those who need it most. Predictably, the proposal was attacked by Mr. Cuomo’s reluctant allies in the left-of-center Working Families Party, who complained that the increase was not nearly enough. Just as predictably, the state’s business community charged that the increase would kill entry-level jobs.

New York joins more than a dozen states that have hiked the minimum wage over the last year or so. And while we support the Governor’s proposal and hope that the Republican-controlled state Senate goes along with it, we’re not convinced that the state should have a two-tiered minimum wage. If nothing else, such a system could pit the city against Nassau and Westchester counties – if there’s one thing the city doesn’t need, it’s another excuse for employers to move jobs out of the five boroughs to save on costs. The greatest beneficiaries of the two-tiered system might be Yonkers and Valley Stream. A statewide minimum wage of $10.50 would be a better option.

In his straddle over the political center, Mr. Cuomo proposes to balance the minimum wage increase with a significant – indeed, almost startling – cut in corporate tax rates for businesses that employ fewer than 100 workers and have a net annual income of less than $390,000. Those businesses would see their corporate tax rate decline from 6.5 percent now to 2.5 percent within three years. Slightly more than 40,000 businesses would qualify for the tax cut.

The Governor needs to think bigger on taxes. If he believes that the state’s tax structure is a job-killer and one of the chief reasons why upstate New York remains mired in a permanent recession, he ought to ask for broader tax cuts, including a decrease in the state’s personal income tax rate, which tops out at nearly 9 percent (that does not include the additional tax burden placed on city residents, who pay up to 3.8 percent in personal income taxes.)

Politically, much of Mr. Cuomo’s agenda for 2015 seems designed to appeal to his party’s progressives – not the hardliners, to be sure, but those slightly left of center who might find themselves looking for a presidential candidate next year if Hillary Clinton decides that eight years of living in the White House was more than enough, thank you. Those voters no doubt will find Mr. Cuomo’s position on the minimum wage and on college debt relief to be progressive without being impractical and divisive.

If that is Mr. Cuomo’s intent, he ought to keep in mind that New York is more than a mere platform for his future ambitions. He could learn a lesson from his friend and colleague on the west side of the Hudson River, Chris Christie, who has seen his popularity nosedive since his re-election more than a year ago. Mr. Christie’s slide in the polls has little to do with stale headlines about traffic jams in Fort Lee. It’s the result of his inattention to the job he was elected to perform. New Jersey’s economy is a wreck and Trenton is as dysfunctional as it ever was. But many New Jerseyans have concluded that their governor is more interested in slapping backs in Iowa than in rolling up his sleeves in Trenton.

The Governor could also learn something from President Obama, whose State of the Union address was an example of the sort of politics Mr. Cuomo wisely avoided during his first term. The President’s proposal to raise taxes on the successful to pay for tax cuts for the middle class (as he defines the term) is something out of candidate Bill de Blasio’s playbook. Mr. Obama’s proposal will go nowhere in a Republican-controlled Congress, but as he attempts to remain relevant in the final two years of his term, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to play class politics.

Mr. Cuomo thus far has resisted that opportunity, to the chagrin of his critics on the left. As he seeks to sell his agenda for 2015, hopefully he will continue to moderate his rhetoric and build a governing consensus that includes all New Yorkers. Andrew Cuomo’s Ambitious Agenda