New York’s legislative session has been highlighted by flashy proposals to strengthen abortion rights, expand casinos, publicly finance campaigns, and combat corruption and sexual harassment after several scandals.
"We had a remarkable string of accomplishments," Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week.
But overshadowed by the flurry of rallies and public speeches, far more grave news also surfaced in recent weeks:
n Two weeks ago, a federal report showed New York’s economy grew at a slower pace than the national rate in 2012. New York ranked 37th among all states in a dismal record for the state’s gross domestic product for the last three years.
n State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s own reports have quietly shown much the same.
n Last week, Armonk-based IBM Corp. announced layoffs of an undisclosed number of workers.
n New York’s unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in April, above the national average of 7.5 percent, though improved from 8.6 percent a year before.
n Now, Texas’ Republican Gov. Rick Perry is hitting New York airwaves with radio spots claiming: "The ‘new’ New York sounds a lot like the old New York."
Perry is scheduled to meet with New York business leaders as part of his attempt to poach jobs and rip New York’s high taxes and business regulations that have run employers out of the state for decades.
The fiscal data contrast the public face of Albany that includes the "New York Open for Business" TV commercials featuring busy, happy workers in bustling, high-tech companies.
Cuomo’s late-session initiatives don’t ignore the economy. He is still pushing to create three or four casinos upstate and turn college campuses into tax-free business development zones. The bold Tax-Free New York proposal would seek to entice employers into New York to align with campuses in exchange for 10 years without any business taxes, property taxes, or even income taxes for employees. College presidents and some business groups immediately supported it.
Since he proposed the tax-free zones, opposition has risen against what critics claim would be a two-tiered New York: some not paying taxes on the uncertain bet they will stick around after 10 years and the vast majority of New Yorkers still paying the nation’s highest taxes.
Meanwhile, Cuomo and his allies continue to stress numbers that show hope.
"While we are still recovering from the 2009 recession, New York has more private sector jobs than in any time in history," said Kenneth Adams, commissioner of the Empire State Development Corp. "This administration is committed to improving New York’s business climate and fostering growth in our economy."
Supporters of Cuomo’s liberal policy agenda are energized after waiting for decades for action, while past governors became mired in mostly unsuccessful attempts to turn around the economy.
"These proposals do distract attention from what others may think are deeper priorities -- which is the economy and taxes -- but the economy is beyond the power of the government in many ways," said professor Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. "These are very important proposals and we live in a real, very politically, incrementally bound world here. If you get a piece of this agenda that’s listed and the pieces do what is intended, c’mon, that’s pretty good!"
It is here where Cuomo’s twin priorities of "jobs, jobs, jobs," and making New York "the progressive capital of the world" can conflict.
"When you look at campaign finance reform, you look at women’s equality, the casinos -- none of that is going to fix the economy of upstate New York," said Brian Sampson of the Unshackle Upstate business group.
His group was an early supporter of Cuomo’s tax-free proposal but is concerned now that details are being revealed, including union protections and other restrictions that can turn off prospective employers. He notes that increasing the minimum wage and extending a $2 billion a year income tax on the highest earners and a corporate power tax that were set to expire also send the wrong signals to employers.