A Republican president was never going to be a very good thing for New York State, but Donald Trump’s election was a worst case scenario, alarming for the potentially savage ways he could punish anyone who isn’t straight, white, and wealthy. What the Trump White House also may do, if Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn’t act soon, is blow a hole in New York State’s budget — a prospect both liberals and conservatives should dread.
If Trump follows through on his promises while proving to be a rubber stamp for congressional Republicans, Obamacare will be dismantled and Medicaid could be turned into block grants. New York spends $62 billion on Medicaid, more than most states, and would suffer drastic reductions in federal aid if people like House Speaker Paul Ryan, a champion of privatization, got his way. Like other Democratic states, New York took advantage of an Obamacare provision that offered federal funding to provide cheap health insurance for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid. If Obamacare disappears, New York will be on the hook for roughly $850 million.
Already facing fiscal uncertainty, New York must protect its budget by renewing the millionaires’ tax, a surcharge on individuals earning more than one million dollars. Cuomo is apparently open to the idea of keeping the tax, which expires at the end of next year, but hasn’t firmly committed. To not commit is a mistake.
The tax, first enacted during the recession in 2009, will become one bulwark against the austerity measures a hostile federal government could impose on the state. It’s about fairness too: the wealthiest people can afford to pay the tax and should do more for a state they still handsomely benefit from.
In his first term, Cuomo all but governed as a fiscal conservative, bragging about the ways he had reined in New York’s high taxes and passed on-time budgets. His desire to cap property tax increases has punished localities in need of revenue to grapple with costs beyond their control, since sales and income taxes can only be raised with the approval of the state government. For Cuomo, obsessed with triangulation, renewing the millionaires’ tax has never been a high priority or one he openly embraced. His ideal Democrat thrived 20 years ago.
But times are changing and Cuomo knows this. He’s thinking about running for president, after all. If he wants to be one of the many Democrats making hay of their resistance to Trump, he can’t drift right any longer. He will need to be talking about the ways he has made his state a progressive leader and there’s only so many times he can mention legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011. By 2020, that talking point will be a decade old.
A failure to renew the tax, especially if Trump does slash the federal money coming to New York, could also damage Cuomo as he seeks re-election in 2018. Putting the fiscal house in order has always been a key talking point, even as he’s done it at the expense of vulnerable New Yorkers who can’t afford to have their municipal services pared back. Keeping a revenue stream in place will bring some certainty to the state’s cloudier fiscal outlook.
Cuomo’s largest donors may not like his left turn. And Cuomo himself probably prefers the middle of the road. A Trump presidency, however, promises that anyone who lingers in the middle is going to get run over.