State budget update: Cuomo’s fixation on Trump

Philip Kamrass/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

One reporter asked how the state budget negotiations are going. Another asked about the issues the governor is close on with legislative leaders. Another question was about the sticking points, such as education funding.

Each time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo found a way to pivot to his new favorite subject: President Donald Trump.

Taking questions from reporters inside the New York State Museum early Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo fielded plenty about the state budget, which is due in just a few days on April 1. But he repeatedly took the opportunity to criticize President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control both houses of Congress. His focus on federal spending cuts, along with the recent hire of a number of former staffers of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are fueling speculation that he has 2020 presidential ambitions.

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“(Republicans) have not made the transition to a governing party. Now, my advice to President Trump, which I’ve said in an op-ed, is I don’t believe they’re going to make the transition. I believe zealots are zealots,” the governor said. “I think zealots on both sides of the spectrum would rather go home and argue political purity to their rabid base rather than argue compromise. Why? Because compromise you have to justify and simplicity is, ‘I told them no-how, no-way. I’ll do nothing. Yay!’ Well, you did nothing and a government that does nothing fails the people.”

Since taking office, Cuomo has repeatedly touted his ability to reach compromise between Republicans and Democrats and deliver on-time budgets and end-of-session agreements. In his comments to reporters, the governor criticized the GOP’s inability to find compromise, calling congressional Republicans the “opposition party.”

“I think zealots on both sides of the spectrum would rather go home and argue political purity to their rabid base rather than argue compromise."

So are the state budget negotiations any closer to compromise? It depends on who you ask.

Cuomo has said that he “basically” has an agreement with legislative leaders on policy issues, but a spending plan remains challenging due to proposed budget cuts to the state on the federal level.

“The policy issues are not the problem in this negotiation,” Cuomo said. “Raise the age, we basically have an agreement on. Ridesharing we basically have an agreement, clean water program we basically have an agreement, college affordability we basically have an agreement. The problem is spending.”

RELATED: State budget update: Optimism on hitting April 1 deadline.

However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said no deal had been reached.

“Raise the Age is not the only issue in the budget,” Flanagan said when asked about one measure that garnered a lot of attention on Monday. “A compromise effectuates housing, it effectuates clean water, opioid and heroin addiction, direct care, which you just saw here. No one of these things is going to get done in isolation.”

Cuomo reiterated his view from yesterday that one option this year could be a budget extender until state officials know what kind of cuts or revenue will be included in the federal budget. The state could do weekly, monthly or six-monthly extenders at a time, the governor added. He didn’t answer questions on whether this would include pay for lawmakers, who would not be paid after Saturday if a 12-month budget is not passed.

Another option, the governor said, is to pass a “cautious financial budget.”

“It is a different calculation that we’ve ever had before, because it’s not just spending versus your anticipated revenues, it’s spending when you don’t know what the revenues are going to be,” he said. “I’d rather pass a budget with reasonable to conservative … cautious financial outlays that could adjust to certain federal cuts. Obviously, if it’s overdramatic it’s going to blow the budget anyways, but they could adjust to certain federal cuts.”

Newsday’s Michael Gormley speculated that legislative leaders would not tell reporters if they were close to a deal because they want to update their members first. One political observer agreed, saying the governor’s priority is to make a deal, while legislative leaders must answer to their members. The source added that the governor was likely telling the truth about the status of the negotiations.

Raise the age, which would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, may involve a new court for 16- and 17- year-olds, according to a tweet by NY1’s Zack Fink. Another point of discussion is the Assembly’s proposed education funding, which is much higher than the governor’s proposal.