Assembly Speaker Stakes Out Ground Between de Blasio and Cuomo in Budget Battle

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today echoed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for the city to put up more money toward the City University of New York system—but backed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s criticism of the governor’s plans to add new layers of state oversight on affordable housing funds and to cut the state’s contribution toward Medicaid.

Addressing an audience at the New York Athletic Club, Mr. Heastie argued that the city should pay a greater share of the CUNY system’s budget. Mr. Cuomo himself backed away from such a proposal after hitting stiff resistance from Mr. de Blasio and the press, and said instead that he hoped to streamline the university bureaucracy, an idea Mr. Heastie voiced support for today.

“We will look for efficiencies about the state and, at some point, the city will contribute—well, the city will be asked to contribute their fair share to deal with the CUNY system,” the Bronx Democrat said at the Crain’s New York Business-sponsored breakfast.

The state has underwritten roughly half the CUNY budget since the city’s brush with bankruptcy in the 1970s, leaving City Hall to foot approximately 10 percent. The balance of the now-$3 billion in yearly operating expenses comes from tuition.

Looking to slash state expenses—and possibly to burn Mr. de Blasio, a bitter rival—the governor proposed in his executive budget that the city triple its contribution. But after the backlash, Mr. Cuomo insisted his plan “won’t cost the city a penny,” something Mr. Heastie appeared to break with today.

“At some point we just ask the city to help us out in the solution,” he said. “I don’t think this should be a major discussion.”

The speaker indicated he was aligned with the mayor in opposition to the governor’s proposal to force the city the city to cover the increasing costs of Medicaid. Albany has shouldered the program’s spiking expenses in all localities statewide since 2011, part of the arrangement on Mr. Cuomo’s two percent property tax cap—a cap that did not apply to the city.

“On Medicaid, as well, I’ve been very clear with the governor: the City of New York should not be, be punished because we don’t have a property tax cap,” he said.

Mr. Heastie similarly rejected the governor’s proposal to subject bel0w-market apartments subsidized through state bond money that the city administers to additional scrutiny. Mr. Cuomo’s budget proposes forcing all projects receiving such funding to get the approval of the Public Authorities Control Board—the three voting members of which are himself, Mr. Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan—before going forward.

Vicki Been, commissioner of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, recently labeled the move “a poison pill.”

“I don’t want the state to become another barrier in the development of affordable housing. I don’t believe they should be signing off. As long as the state is made aware of the actions the city is taking in regards to affordable housing, that’s good enough for me,” Mr. Heastie said.

The final state budget coms out of often fraught negotiations between the governor, Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader.

Mr. Heastie also announced that his caucus would unveil its new ethics reform proposals later today. But he shot down the idea of publicly financing campaigns for state office—a proposal Mr. de Blasio and, less enthusiastically, Mr. Cuomo have endorsed. The speaker suggested that such a system would invite outside groups to increase their spending and influence on elections.

The speaker applauded Mr. Cuomo for recently embracing a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, both proposals the governor had previously opposed. But asked if he believed Mr. Cuomo—known in his first three years in office as a fierce fiscal conservative—was a progressive, Mr. Heastie responded with a long, awkward silence.

“I’d say, for he and I, in this last year, there hasn’t been many really policy issues where we’ve actually disagreed,” he finally said, noting that the two had split over teacher evaluations. “I think he is actually standing up now as a, as a, as a, as a Democratic governor should.”

He refused to tell the Observer afterward what he thought of how the governor had acted in past years.

Assembly Speaker Stakes Out Ground Between de Blasio and Cuomo in Budget Battle