A budget that does what Cuomo needs

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Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—Of all the statements issued in support of the state budget agreement announced Saturday, the most valuable one for Governor Andrew Cuomo was the single paragraph from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.

As the top Republican in a key suburban swing county, you'd think Mangano would find a reason to throw some mud—especially as his counterpart from another key suburban county, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, tries to gain steam for his campaign challenge to Cuomo.

In a worst-case scenario for Astorino, Mangano did the opposite.

“This budget, thanks to the governor’s leadership, delivers one of the largest property tax relief packages for Long Island homeowners in years,” Mangano stated. “I am pleased to have stood together with Governor Cuomo to help make the property tax cut plan a reality and I look forward to our continued work together to lower the tax burdens on our businesses and residents.”

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The budget set to be approved on Monday will provide property tax rebate checks to homeowners outside of New York City and relief for renters, based on their income, in the five boroughs. It will include funding for pre-kindergarten programs around the state, and increase school aid. It will do hundreds of other things, too, but the savviest of politicians know that voters won't notice much more than that.

And it will accomplish two key tasks for Cuomo, a Democrat facing re-election: It will provide another answer to the question of whether Cuomo has done enough to stem tax growth during his four years in office, and simultaneously undercut criticism from the left.

“This was the perfect election year budget. Everybody won,” said Larry Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University's Center for Suburban Studies. “And the full bill doesn't come due for years.”

If the tax checks provide a much clearer gain in political capital, Cuomo will probably still do well enough on his left despite some short-term noise. He fell short of a full system of the full-fledged public campaign finance system that the state's labor-backed groups had pushed for, settling for a pilot project that only covers the race for comptroller (and screws the current comptroller, Tom DiNapoli) that good-government advocates say is doomed to fail.

“This isn't enough,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, a progressive organizing group that is planning to rally hundreds of protesters to the Capitol on Monday.

Perhaps more significantly, Scharff is one of the top leaders of the Working Families Party, whose ballot line could either provide a nice boost to Cuomo in November or drag down his margins, probably non-fatally, against Astorino. The party has made noise about considering another candidate, and Cuomo has responded by calling major labor leaders who provide the party's boots on the ground. But Cuomo, like everyone else, will believe it when he sees it. 

The governor also has cover. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—the current standard-bearer for progressive executives—praised the budget because of the pre-K funding, even as Cuomo gave more rights to charter schools co-located in city buildings.

And for all the noise that group's like Scharff's will make, polls don't reflect their dissatisfaction: 69 percent of self-identified liberals viewed Cuomo favorably in the most recent Siena poll, higher than any other type of voter.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who champions tax hikes, minimum wage hikes, and a slew of other progressive policies, gets a 31 percent rating.