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Politics and Government

End of session: Mixed results for Governor Cuomo

The just concluded 2012 legislative session brought mixed results for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is in his second year as governor.  While Cuomo and lawmakers could claim credit for a calm and functional end to the session,  the governor had to drop some of his original goals  in order for that to happen.

Cuomo’s second legislative session was far less dramatic than his first legislative session in 2011, when he convinced the legislature to authorize same sex marriage, instate a two percent property tax cap, and close a massive $10 billion budget deficit.

In his second session, the governor’s record of achieving his stated goals was not as complete.

The governor began in January with his State of the State message. The centerpiece of the speech was the building of a giant convention center in Queens, which Cuomo said would be “the biggest in the world.”

“We believe we can attract $4 billion in private sector investment to build a state of the art convention center,” Cuomo said. “It will be all about jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The next day, the governor revealed that the gaming conglomerate Genting had signed a letter of understanding with the state to construct the convention center.  Several weeks later, Cuomo convinced the legislature to take the first step toward passing a constitutional amendment to allow up more gambling in New York.

But then, five months later, Cuomo abruptly announced that the centerpiece of his State of the State message, the Genting financed convention center, had fallen through. He said Genting wanted exclusive casino rights for the New York City area, and he could not guarantee that.

“We didn’t have a good way around that,” the governor said at the time.

Cuomo’s announcement came just before the New York Times published a story that said Genting and other pro-gambling forces had contributed over $2 million dollars to a lobby group closely associated with Cuomo, the Committee to Save New York.  The donations came in December of 2011, just weeks before the State of the State speech in early January.

The governor also rescinded a campaign promise to veto any redistricting lines that were not non–partisan and done by an independent commission, and in mid-March agreed to new lines for the legislature that critics said were blatantly gerrymandered.

During an all-night session, the governor issued special messages to rush through other parts of a larger deal to create a new pension tier and expand the state’s DNA database.

In contrast, the end of the legislative session took place during the day. And this time, Cuomo refused to issue any special messages. The session concluded in the most orderly fashion in decades.

“Decorum, professionalism and competence in government is what we’ve been trying to instill,” Cuomo “And that’s how we want to close out the session.”

The governor did trade order, though, for any last-minute agreements on major topics. He had to give up on a push to decriminalize public possession of smaller amounts of marijuana. Other issues, including an increase in the state’s minimum wage, championed by Democrats, also fell by the wayside.

Cuomo did win agreement on a major reorganization of state agencies that care for the mentally and physically disabled.  

Steve Greenberg, the spokesman for Siena College polling, says a quiet end to the session can actually be counted as an achievement for the governor and lawmakers, following years of chaos and dysfunction.

“The voters in this state aren’t necessarily looking for dramatic, historic legislation all the time,” Greenberg said. “They’re looking for state government to work, and to work for them.”

The governor is likely to get another chance to press his agenda with the legislature before the calendar year ends.

There’s been talk of pay raises for lawmakers that has not been completely ruled out by legislative leaders, perhaps laying the ground work for more discussions on the governor’s other unfinished items.   

Cuomo has not yet fulfilled another State of the State goal to pursue campaign finance reform. He also claimed that he would be the “lobbyist” for the state’s students. His newly formed education commission is due to report back on how to reform the state’s school system in December.