Sandy caused ‘staggering’ $50 billion in damage, says Cuomo

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Hurricane Sandy caused $50 billion in economic damage and lost business, with $33 billion directly hitting New York State, said Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called it a "staggering" number.

At a press conference this morning on the hurricane relief efforts, Cuomo said the storm has also added $1 billion to the state's existing deficit, or "maybe higher after what's happened."

This all but ensures a new debate about spending cuts and possible revenue generators when the legislature reconvenes, which is scheduled for January, but could be called back in a special session.

Asked about Democrats' possible majority in the State Senate, Cuomo, who has feuded with his own party members in that chamber, said "Democrats lost power because of dysfunction."

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He also said he has not, and will not, get involved in a leadership fight in that house. But he did say the situation is "more complicated than it used to be," because "there are three groups instead of two."

The three groups include Republicans, Democrats and the four-member Independent Democratic Caucus.

Democrats, organized labor groups and progressive advocates have been less eager to acknowledge the IDC as a separate entity, preferring to characterize that four-member caucus as Democrats first and foremost, albeit squeaky wheels who'll need to be greased.

Cuomo said whoever takes the majority will need to form a "coalition" government.

The governor said one of the primary lessons from the recent storm is that "climate change is a reality," although he wanted to avoid the "political" question about its cause.

He also reiterated his desire to re-think the built environment in the wake of a new reality that includes frequent storms and flooding.

"Where we rebuild and where we don't rebuild is going to be something we look at," said Cuomo, who did not specify which storm-damaged region he thought should not be rebuilt. "The overall vulnerability of this region to floods and storms," he said, had to be considered in the rebuilding effort. "When we designed and built New York, we did not think of floods and storms because we didn't have them."

Cuomo ended the press conference with a lengthy diatribe about how he has raged against the utility companies for not better preparing for the storm or returning service to customers. He said he's used language his daughters shouldn't hear, in his private conversations with utility company executives. He told reporters some of them had literally run out of "poles" and other equipment, something he said was a sign of their failure.