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Cuomo spending time on a campaign-style road trip instead of in Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been traveling in an RV covered with slogans to raise the state's minimum wage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been spending more time on the road than at the State Capitol in recent weeks, on an election style campaign to promote his ideas, including a $15 an hour minimum wage.

It may be the height of the budget season at the State Capitol, but Gov. Cuomo seems more in campaign mode. He’s been traveling the state to promote his plans to raise the minimum wage, and paid family leave.

The governor has hired a bus, emblazoned with campaign style slogans, which he’s been riding for partial journeys from New York City to upstate, disembarking for rallies. In Kingston, where he was introduced by the leader of the state health care worker’s union 1199, and local Democratic elected leaders, he sounded themes that Cuomo has been focusing on for several months now.

“Raise the minimum wage to $15, do it today,” Cuomo extorted, to applause.   

Cuomo’s also holding telephone town meetings, soliciting participants through robo-calls. 

When the governor is not campaigning for the  minimum wage hike , he’s holding rallies for a partial paid family leave bill. It would give workers up to 12 weeks of leave at up to two thirds of their pay, when fully phased in. Employees contribute around $50 a year to a pool to fund the program. And just like any good political campaign, Cuomo has developed a basic stump speech with talking points.

“This is about a fight for basic fairness in this state,” he said in Harlem. “That’s what this is about.”

Later that day in Buffalo, Cuomo said “This legislative agenda is going to be about a fight for fairness for New York’s working families. Because that’s what this is really about.”

Credit governorandrewcuomo / Flickr
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking at a rally in Kingston, NY Wednesday

Cuomo has also been telling audiences that he’s aiming for something higher than simply getting legislation passed in New York.

“We’re going to say to this nation, ‘we did it in New York, you can do it anywhere in this country’,” Cuomo said at that same Buffalo rally on February 17th.

He seems at times to be channeling Democratic candidate for President Bernie Sanders.

“And you should be angry and I should be angry!” Cuomo shouted. 

The mention of national campaigning has led some to speculate that the governor is setting himself for a possible presidential run in 2020, should a Democratic candidate not win in November. It spurred a column in the New York Post.  When Cuomo was asked by a reporter whether he was setting up for a potential run for higher office, he vigorously denied it.

“I have given it zero thought,” Cuomo said. “Is that clear enough as an answer? Nada.”

The governor’s political opposition, the state’s Republican Party, has been speaking out against the $15 an hour minimum wage, saying it’s too costly for businesses, especially smaller employers and would be a “job killer”. Party Chair Ed Cox says it was only around a year ago that the governor expressed doubts about the viability of a $15 minimum wage. 

"He’s adopted a New York City union’s slogan,” Cox said. “Simply as a slogan and turned it into government policy for his personal political purposes.”

Cox says Cuomo is trying to shore up support among his liberal leaning base, following a significant primary challenge in 2014 from law professor Zephyr Teachout.

Cuomo is not having trouble convincing his audiences of his plans, who loudly cheer his speeches, but he will, in the next month,  have to get Republicans in the State Senate to agree to the $15 phase in for the minimum wage, as well as a paid family leave program. GOP Senators have said they want to do some form of paid family leave, but are so far been non-committal on the minimum wage hike.

Assembly Democrats back the minimum wage hike, but they have a slightly different plan for paid family leave.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.