Gov. Andrew Cuomo Faces New Struggles to Move Albany

By Mike Vilensky Features Dow Jones Newswires

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pledge to make government work and his knack for easing partisan gridlock are facing new headwinds ahead of his re-election campaign next year.

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Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, ended his seventh legislative session last week with important matters unresolved and lawmakers pointing fingers. Earlier in the year, lawmakers were days late in completing the budget, the longest delay of Mr. Cuomo's tenure.

It is unclear whether legislators will reconvene for a special session to try to break an impasse over a number of issues, including Mayor Bill de Blasio's authority over New York City schools, and the rate of sales taxes in New York counties. On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said he hopes to do so before July.

The stalemate marks a contrast from past years when the Democratic governor won concessions from both parties by his deadline. And it undercuts one of his top political talking points, that he can oil the wheels of government, said analysts, officials, lobbyists and others involved in state politics.

These people attributed Mr. Cuomo's new difficulties prodding legislators to his lengthening time in office and natural tensions that arise between the branches, and to changes in legislative leadership. They said it is an open question how the dynamic will affect 2018. Mr. Cuomo has said he will run again; Republicans said they plan to run on a reform platform against the two-term incumbent.

"Mario Cuomo is reported to have said that in politics friends are fleeting and enemies accumulate," said Blair Horner, the director of government watchdog New York Public Interest Research Group and a longtime Albany observer. "That is what you're seeing, and I think it will consistently get harder."

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A spokeswoman for Mr. Cuomo said: "Gov. Cuomo's record of results speaks for itself -- passing more on-time budgets than any other governor in modern political history and delivering major progressive victories year after year."

At a news conference last week, Mr. Cuomo said his accomplishments for the year were largely hashed out in the state budget in April, including softening criminal penalties against minors and offering free college tuition for some middle-class families.

After that, "We got to every issue, we just don't have agreement on every issue," he said. He mostly blamed the Legislature, saying lawmakers were derelict in their duties for going home without resolving pressing matters.

The governor faces new legislative dynamics as he tries to make a three-way deal. The state Senate is unusually fractured, because nine dissident Democrats keep the Republicans in control of the chamber, even though Democrats have a numerical majority.

In the Assembly, Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie appears less eager to cut deals than former Speaker Sheldon Silver, also a Democrat.

"It's clear the Assembly is changing its approach," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. "Why should we let bad policies be enacted into law all the time?"

Mr. Cuomo has said he will work with whoever is in power.

In 2010, he ran as a reformer, calling state government "a mess" and the legislative process "a disgrace." In 2014, he said his Republican challenger would "bring back hyperpartisan gridlock."

Throughout his tenure, Mr. Cuomo has worked closely with both parties and been credited with restoring some orderliness to state government. But legislators and political strategists said that time may be ending, and Republican critics are seizing on the tensions in Albany.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, said this session had been rife with "chaos."

Jessica Proud, a Republican strategist who worked on Rob Astorino's 2014 GOP gubernatorial race against Mr. Cuomo, said she expects cleaning up Albany "to be a main issue in next year's election."

She said Mr. Cuomo benefited from entering office on the heels of scandals and chaos following the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but "the veneer is coming off."

Still, Mr. Cuomo is a relatively popular figure in New York with an approval rating above 50% in recent polls, and he would likely be the front-runner in the 2018 governor's race.

Mel Miller, a political consultant and former Assembly Speaker, said there is "residual anger" between the Legislature and Mr. Cuomo after past battles, but he cautioned that the tensions are healthy.

Mr. Miller said the state government is not dysfunctional yet. "Compared to Congress," he said, "it is elegant."

Write to Mike Vilensky at mike.vilensky@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 25, 2017 20:41 ET (00:41 GMT)