Beware Dems’ new Albany supermajorities
As if a second COVID wave weren’t enough, New York’s prospects for economic recovery will face new headwinds — from Albany.
When most of a record 1.9 million mail-in ballots were finally counted last week, it was clear the state Senate’s existing 40-member Democratic majority would grow by at least two seats, giving them their first-ever two-thirds supermajority, enough to override the governor’s vetoes.
Combined with their long-standing supermajority in the Assembly, Democrats now are positioned to have the final word on the response to enormous state and local budget gaps created by the pandemic recession.
Spending, now running far ahead of even optimistic revenue projections, must adjust to reflect reality — but reality doesn’t factor into the rising Albany worldview. On average, the incoming class of legislators are more inclined to tax, spend and regulate the already heavily taxed, high-spending, over-regulated state.
Even before the pandemic, Senate and Assembly Democrats had introduced a slew of tax-hike proposals aimed at both individuals and corporations, including further increases in the state’s already-high “millionaire tax” rate. Other proposals included a revived stock-transfer tax, higher property taxes on non-primary “pied-à-terre” homes valued at $5 million or more and an unprecedented, constitutionally dubious “Billionaire Mark to Market” wealth tax.
So far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has resisted the call for tax hikes, pointing out that high earners could respond by simply moving away. But he’s also warned that if federal aid doesn’t materialize soon, he’ll resort to a combination of spending cuts, borrowing — and tax increases.
The governor has claimed the Democrats’ new Senate supermajority “doesn’t really make a difference” — but he knows better. History shows that when legislators are in a position to neutralize gubernatorial vetoes, it makes a huge difference.
For example, during GOP Gov. George Pataki’s third and final term, hundreds of his line-item budget vetoes were overridden by an alliance of Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans.
And after bankrolling Democratic candidates, the most powerful lobbying force in the Capitol will be the labor unions, which have a vested interest in blocking cuts and contracting reforms.
Topping the list, as always, will be New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which provided much of the funding and logistical counterbalance to a $5 million independent-expenditure campaign, backed by Ronald Lauder, linking the Senate Democrats’ criminal-justice agenda to Gotham’s crime wave and the “defund police” movement. Breaking with the rest of public-sector organized labor, police unions also spent heavily on campaigns targeting the most vulnerable of Long Island’s first-term Senate Democrats.
Those efforts initially appeared to have yielded fruit for the GOP, based on election night results showing that Republicans had big enough leads to flip four Democratic-held seats on Long Island and Westchester, and another in Brooklyn.
But early Republican victory declarations failed to reckon with the impact of a new state law that vastly expanded mail-in balloting. As the absentee ballots were counted in the two weeks following Election Day, GOP Senate candidates saw their leads dwindle and disappear.
Still, the Democrats’ record legislative numbers don’t necessarily mean that they’ll have the will or the discipline to unite behind a common agenda. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins aren’t nearly as entrenched or powerful as their recent predecessors. The governor, meanwhile, continues to wield considerable executive power.
How will Cuomo deal with this new reality? Rather than fight any pitched budget-cutting battles that he might lose, he could bend further left. His options will become clearer after the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs decide whether Republicans hold their US Senate majority, which would mean less federal money and a more immediate fiscal crisis in New York.
Immediate fiscal challenges aside, there is no understating the longer-term significance of New York’s new legislative supermajorities. For the first time in the federal Voting Rights Act era, Democrats will completely control the decennial redrawing of New York’s congressional and legislative district lines — inevitably moving New York state further along the path to a New York City-style political monoculture.
When a blue wave flipped New York’s Senate two years ago, state Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan made a prediction that increasingly looks clairvoyant. “We’re going to be testing the limits of progressive possibilities,” he said. “I hope we look a lot more like California.”
Brace yourself, New Yorkers.