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Not all Democrats on Cuomo bandwagon

ALBANY -- Governing from the fiscal right may have its popular benefits for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, but his ideas are starting to generate more pushback from the liberal wing of his own Democratic Party.

 "If this is what it means to be a New Democrat, and if this is what it means to be progressive, then something is very wrong,'' wrote a group of 42 Democratic local government officials from around the state. The Monday letter -- an "open letter to New York Democrats" -- was signed by one Buffalo Democrat: Demone Smith, the Mastene representative on the city's Common Council.

The local Democrats say Cuomo is disproportionaly relying on cuts to close the state's $10 billion deficit that will too deeply cut services while refusing to go along with a push to extend a current surcharge on wealthier New Yorkers.

 "We cannot be silent on this matter -- not when the Tea Party, the Conservative Party, Republicans and a group of wealthy Wall Street executives are cheering on the governor's policies,'' the group wrote.

Charlie King, the state Democratic Party executive director, said he didn't know many of the names on the letter. "The lack of state legislators on the list would have been the more fair and important story to report. On any issue, given the nature of the Democratic Party you should be able to find hundreds of differing opinions given the thousands of Democratic elected officials in this state,'' King said in a statement.

-- Tom Precious

Here is the complete letter:


February 28, 2011

Dear Fellow Democrats:

We are writing to express concerns about the direction of our party and our state.

As we all know, New York faces serious fiscal problems. We all understand that difficult decisions must be made. As loyal Democrats, we believe that protecting children, seniors, working families and our communities must always be a priority.

But the truth in Albany right now is that some of Governor Cuomo’s budget policies are neither balanced nor well conceived:

The Governor would make deep cuts in education funding, by abandoning the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case – the hard-won victory that is supposed to ensure fairness in the distribution of school aid and give all children a sound basic education.

And furthermore, the Governor would slash health care spending, eliminating prescription drug coverage for two thirds of our seniors through the EPIC program, a program which so many seniors rely on.

At the same time the Governor is taking these and other drastic actions, he wants to give the richest three percent of New Yorkers a massive tax break by allowing the expiration of the "Millionaire’s Tax", a tax that would generate $5 billion annually.

According to the Governor, this is what it means to be a "new Democrat." According to the Governor, this is the path to becoming "the most progressive state in the nation."

If this is what it means to be a New Democrat, and if this is what it means to be progressive then something is very wrong.

We cannot be silent on this matter – not when the Tea Party, the Conservative Party, Republicans and a group of wealthy Wall Street executives are cheering the Governor’s policies.

Of course, as we want the new Governor to succeed, we also recognize our duty and obligation to remember what our party has always stood for: fiscal responsibility, fairness, compassion and vision.

We have a duty and responsibility to speak out now.

To us, the answer is simple. Were it not for the proposed tax break for millionaires – worth $5 billion annually – our fiscal problems would be much less severe. We would still need to reduce spending, but we could lessen the severity of the cuts this year and even more so next year.

We ask that you join us in urging Governor Cuomo and our state lawmakers to extend the existing millionaire’s tax as a way of avoiding drastic cuts to schools and health facilities.

It is imperative that we protect children and seniors, not millionaires.

Very truly yours,

Video: Reed meets constituents in Ellicottville

Mounting public debt was on the minds of Rep. Tom Reed's (R-Corning) constituents during a town hall meeting today in Ellicottville. Here are some of the highlights of that meeting as well as some of Reed's thoughts following the event, which took place in the Ellicottville Town Hall:

After the meeting, Reed also shared his thoughts on Chris Lee's resignation and redistricting:

Video: White House economist discusses gas prices

A story in Sunday's News takes a look at rising gas prices in Western New York and the role played by the ongoing turmoil in Libya. During a Thursday talk with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, White House Economist Austan Goolsbee spoke about how increases in gas prices affect the economy. Here's some of what he had to say: 

Video: McCarthy, Precious Talk State Budgets -- from Albany to Wisconsin

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy and Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious discuss the state budget, the protests in Wisconsin, as well as other issues in the state political scene:

Important revenue stream for state slides

ALBANY -– Bonuses paid to the New York City securities industry, an important source of annual tax revenue for the state government, dropped 8 percent last year, state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported this afternoon.

But the state’s fiscal watchdog sought to put a positive spin on the numbers, noting that total Wall Street profits totaled $27.6 billion last year -– the second-largest on record. And he said overall compensation for Wall Street workers grew 6 percent last year.

The annual report by the comptroller projects the Wall Street bonus pool last year totaled $20.8 billion –- off about one-third just two years earlier. But DiNapoli said part of the drop-off is the result of regulatory changes that have pushed compensation packages to rely less on annual bonuses and more on things like deferred salaries and stock options.

Such a move, DiNapoli said, is good for New York’s state budget, which has been the beneficiary and victim over the years of the roller coaster ride by Wall Street bonuses.

Activity on Wall Street accounts for about 13 percent of the state’s revenues –- down from about 20 percent before the recession hit, the comptroller said.

"A more stable and less volatile securities industry is in the best interests of Wall Street, the city and the state," DiNapoli said in a statement.

In an interview this afternoon on CNBC, DiNapoli acknowledged the overall bonus pool number "may look like a negative."

But, he said, "Wall Street continues to be on the rebound, and that’s good news."

Wall Street apparently wasn’t glued to the television interview: soon after DiNapoli’s appearance, the Dow was down nearly 100 points during a second straight day of financial jitters over the exploding Middle East.

Here's DiNapoli's interview:

-- Tom Precious

Cuomo: I'm no Scott Walker

ALBANY -– Don’t look for a repeat in Albany of the kinds warfare with public employee unions that have stalled work at Wisconsin’s state Capitol, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo insisted today.

"There are all the differences in the world between what we're proposing here and what he's proposing," Cuomo said today of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Cuomo is facing growing unrest by New York’s public employee unions over his plans to cut the workforce by as many as 9,800 state workers unless unions agree to a number of cost-cutting concessions, including a wage freeze and some sort of pension cost controls.

"Do we have the same basic situation where you have a state that has a deficit? Yes," Cuomo said after an event on Long Island this afternoon.

"But we are handling it two very different ways, both programmatically and stylistically," the New York governor said.

Cuomo stood up for collective bargaining rights -– which the Wisconsin governor wants to restrict as a way to cut state expenses there. Cuomo did note his idea for "recalibration" of matters like salaries and pension costs for government workers to help the state resolve its $10 billion deficit.

But he signaled Albany will not become Madison.

"We’re going out of our way in this state to work together. We have the task forces that we’re talking about where we put everyone at the table," Cuomo said. "We have the private sector at the table. We have labor unions at the table. We have government officials. Local government. My approach has been we’re in a tough place, this is a tough time. Let’s all come together and see how we can work this out together, and everyone will do their piece."

Asked if the idea of collective bargaining is valid, Cuomo said, "Certainly."

"I am a long-term supporter of the labor movement," he added.

Cuomo’s optimistic words come as the sides here are taking a breather –- the Legislature is on vacation until Monday -– before serious budget fights break out in Albany over the next six weeks leading up to the April 1 fiscal year start.

The Democratic governor’s thoughts also come as Republican governors from around the country are siding with the embattled Wisconsin chief executive -– going so far as to start a "Stand with Scott" web page to back his agenda.

-- Tom Precious

Audio: Tom Precious talks Medicaid, state budget, redistricting

It's winter break for state legislators in Albany, but that doesn't mean Albany goes into hibernation.

The News' Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious delves into all things Albany -- including budget issues, Medicaid and redistricting -- in this Politics Now podcast.

The atmosphere around Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget is becoming more contentious, Precious indicates, as more rank-and-file Legislature members are coming out and criticizing elements of the spending plan.

Stream the audio here:

Download it here.

Make sure to stay up to date with news out of the state capital at our Capital Connection page.

--Aaron Besecker

Cuomo advances a new redistricting process

ALBANY -– Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday proposed legislation to restrict the power of the Legislature in the upcoming, once-a-decade redistricting process to re-draw congressional and state legislative district boundaries.

The Cuomo plan calls for creation of a panel –- whose membership "reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic and gender diversity" -– with responsibility to create new boundary lines based on the 2010 U.S. Census. The panel would be selected by the governor and legislative leaders.

In the past, the Legislature -– which means the Democrats who control the Assembly and Republicans who run the Senate –- devise their own district lines, as well as those for members of Congress. Governors still have a say by either approving or vetoing the lines.

Besides some advocacy that voiced backing, the first legislative group to rush today to support Cuomo was the Senate Democrats -– who will not oversee the reapportionment process in the 62-member chamber since they lost control in last November’s elections after two brief years in power. Democrats fear Senate Republicans will use redistricting to try to bolster their narrow, 32-30 margin of control.

Members of the redistricting panel would have to be at least four years removed from being a member of the Legislature or Congress. Employees of the Legislature and executive chamber, as well as party officials and lobbyists, would be barred from serving.

The panel would present its lines to the Legislature, which could offer no amendments until a third try by the commission.

New district lines do not kick in until the 2012 elections.

-- Tom Precious

Burton to leave White House

WASHINGTON -- Bill Burton, a Buffalo native who served as deputy White House press secretary for the past two years, said today that he is stepping down to start a political consulting firm with another departing Obama administration aide.

Obama recently passed over Burton in favor of Jay Carney, Vice President Biden's spokesman, in choosing a successor to departing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

But in an email, Burton -- who has worked for Obama since the first day of his presidential campaign four years ago and traveled frequently with him to Hawaii and other places -- said the decision to leave the White House was a personal one.

"While I have felt a real fulfillment in this position -- from the walls of this building to the shores of Honolulu -- painting the new baby’s room this past weekend gave me clarity about a house I might want to spend a little more time in," Burton said. "So on to the next chapter in my professional career."

Burton said he and Obama political aide Sean Sweeney will be starting a firm focused on political and strategic consulting. Sweeney, a former political aide to Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, most recently served as an aide to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and interim chief of staff Pete Rouse.

Burton, 33, said he will be leaving the White House on Friday and will be providing more details about the firm he is forming with Sweeney in the coming weeks.

Before joining Obama, Burton served as spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the 2004 presidential campaigns of former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

He is a graduate of City Honors School and the University of Minnesota.

--Jerry Zremski

Comptroller notes the good -- and risks -- of Cuomo budget

ALBANY – State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the governor’s budget plan pushes the state to more long-term structural balance and begins “finally reversing the state’s practice of spending more money than it takes in.’’

But the Democratic comptroller noted that Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposal also includes risks because more than $4 billion in savings, or placeholders as he called them, have yet to be identified.

The concern from DiNapoli comes a week after Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos raised the same issue, and said the budget is difficult for lawmakers to completely analyze since portions involving Medicaid, prison closings and economic development are left vague in the fiscal plan.

DiNapoli said the Cuomo budget “is a solid step’’ for New York to begin living within its means. “But the plan includes more than $4 billion in placeholder savings. Without knowing the details of many of the deficit-closing actions, it is difficult to determine if they will produce the projected savings. With uncertainty comes risk,’’ he warned.

The comptroller noted that personal income tax revenues in the current budget for the fiscal year that ends March 31 is off its projections by more than 6 percent, or $1 billion -– the sixth straight year Albany has been short of income tax receipts. That helps blow holes in the state budget.

The fiscal analysis by the state’s chief budget watchdog said Cuomo’s plan relies less on borrowing “to narrow the general fund gap’’ than past budgets. But there is some, DiNapoli noted, such as $200 million in bonds for capital spending that were planned to be financed with “current resources’’ instead of borrowing.

DiNapoli noted that Cuomo’s 2011 fiscal plan estimates personal income tax revenues will rise 7.4 percent in the coming year, which the comptroller said could “be well above actual growth.”

And the comptroller warned of potentially risky revenue raising ideas, including the reliance by yet another governor on more than $100 million from collections of taxes on Indian retailer cigarette sales.

-- Tom Precious

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |