Throughout most of last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made his pitch directly to New York State residents, during a three-day speaking tour that was his de-facto State of the State address this year.
During his stop in the Hudson Valley last week at Purchase College, Cuomo, a Democrat, challenged local municipalities to tighten its belts further by crafting plans to consolidate or share services that voters could determine in this November’s election. He also conveyed his plan to provide free tuition to families that make up to $125,000 per year for all SUNY and CUNY two- year and four-year colleges. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship, Cuomo said it would alleviate the crushing cost for middle class families.
But area Republican lawmakers weren’t impressed with Cuomo’s initiatives and priorities, defending local leaders and expressing skepticism over Cuomo’s free college plan.
State Senator Terrence Murphy said while there has been a property tax cap in place for several years, the state senate just passed a cap on state spending that Cuomo should sign off on “because our credit card is maxed.”
Murphy said that unfunded mandates have made local budgets difficult to navigate, noting Cuomo refused to sign an indigent defense bill that would have helped relieve counties of the cost for residents that need public legal counsel.
“He’s spending all this money,” Murphy said. “I have no idea where it’s coming from.”
Murphy also slammed Cuomo’s free college plan, noting many residents in the district he represents would not qualify for free college. He also questioned whether the proposal would benefit United States citizens or also include families that came to the country illegally.
“AKA the Dream Act,” Murphy, referencing the proposal that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for financial aid for colleges in the state, said. “And as I said, keep dreaming.”
State Senator Sue Serino said the county executives and other local leaders in her district that encompasses Putnam and Dutchess counties are already sharing services. Serino called Cuomo’s challenge of local governments “surprising” and “upsetting.”
Serino had multiple questions about the free college tuition plan from Cuomo, including how long a student must stay in New York to get the benefit, what incentive is there for them to remain in the state after graduation and finally “what kind of a message are we sending to the people who work three jobs to put themselves through college and they’re still paying off their loans.”
Serino wanted to hear Cuomo talk more about job creation, which she believes was lacking during his speech. But she was pleased to hear him discuss protecting senior citizens from financial elder abuse.
State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne said he was disappointed that Cuomo blamed local governments for crushing property taxes and didn’t mention the impending closure of Indian Point.
Byrne defended local leaders, arguing county executives have worked hard to share services. Byrne said Cuomo tried to oversimplify things by suggesting property taxes are high because of more trivial things like photocopy machines and plow trucks.
Byrne said Cuomo failed to mention school taxes, which takes up about 70 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill. Unfunded mandates also lead to a large portion of the bill local municipalities need to pick, Byrne sad.
“He should be helping,” Byrne said. “He shouldn’t be bossing around our county governments.”
Regarding a free college tuition plan for families making up to $125,000 annually, Byrne expressed skepticism toward it. While Byrne, who has student loans himself, sympathizes with college students, he said the plan sounds “very expensive and a big cost to the taxpayers.”
Brandon Muir of the conservative leaning organization Reclaim New York called Cuomo’s speech in the Hudson Valley, “an erratic blend of lies, contradictions, and outright fantasy.”
“We again heard a lie to New Yorkers about the potential staggering costs of his Bernie Sanders-inspired ‘free’ college tuition scheme. College tuition will never be free. It will be paid for by New Yorkers,” Muir said, adding. “The governor shamefully avoided all blame for the nation’s highest property taxes. He dodged responsibility claiming, ‘don’t point the finger at me.’”