He mostly triangulated on social issues that appealed to lefties early on (gay marriage, for example) even as he governed as a center-right pol on economic issues (property tax cap, for example.)
But ever since that challenge from the left he got from Zephyr Teachout in 2014, coupled with his languishing job approval numbers (44% job approval last February in a Siena poll, 40% last month in a Siena poll), he's seemed more interested in triangulating on some economic issues too - especially ones that his mortal enemy, Bill de Blasio, might take some political benefit from.
Thus Cuomo, who insisted a $13 dollar an hour minimum wage was a "non-starter" in NY State when de Blasio was pushing for it, has since aligned himself with some of de Blasio's union and progressive base and pushed for a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage.
Today he upped the ante on that:
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to unilaterally create a $15 minimum wage for all state workers, making New York the first state to set such a high wage for a large group of public employees.
The increase, which Mr. Cuomo will announce on Tuesday, would place New York’s public employees far ahead of other states on minimum wage, and at the vanguard of a national movement to address stagnant wages for tens of millions of American workers.Using executive authority, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, would gradually increase the hourly rate: State workers in New York City would earn $15 an hour by the end of 2018; state workers outside of New York City would also see wages rise, though more slowly, with rates climbing to $15 by the end of 2021. All told, some 10,000 workers would see a bump in pay, according to the governor’s office, with the vast majority of those living upstate or outside the city.The governor’s action comes on a day when fast-food workers across the country are striking for a uniform $15 hourly wage, a movement that Mr. Cuomo has championed in New York and even as a growing number of cities have acted to raise wages. But Mr. Cuomo’s action is the first time a governor has raised wages to $15 for so many state employees
The NY Times points out some of the political motive behind today's move:
Mr. Cuomo’s action comes on the heels of several other executive actions seemingly meant to appease and please the liberal wing of his party, which has faulted the governor in the past for his working too closely with Republicans, who hold the majority in the State Senate. In addition to the increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers in New York — which Mr. Cuomo accomplished in July via a state wage board — Mr. Cuomo has also empowered the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, to look into police-related killings. And last month, he expanded protections for transgender people, building on a 1945 state law that barred discrimination on the basis of sex.
The Times reports that this move also comes as an offshoot to negotiations with CSEA and PEF, two state worker unions who have had fraught negotiations with Cuomo in the past:
An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the action had not formally been announced said that Mr. Cuomo’s decision was based in part on pending negotiations with two large public-sector unions — Civil Service Employees Association and the New York State Public Employees Federation.
PEF has new leadership that some see as more Cuomo-friendly than the ousted leadership, so some of this may just be political payoff for a Cuomo ally.
But don't underestimate two others reasons why Cuomo's pushing this now.
First, it allows him to steal whatever progressive thunder de Blasio once had and relegate the mired mayor to the sidelines on yet another liberal issue (and let's note that even though 90% of the workers affected by this are outside NYC, Cuomo had his announcement in NYC today.)
Second, it allows Cuomo to continue to triangulate on another issue near and dear to his heart - the destruction of the teachers unions and public school system.
On the same day that Cuomo said he would issue an executive order raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for state workers came this news on the education front:
In one of her most significant actions as state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia has granted Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash unprecedented power to make changes at the district’s most struggling schools, bypassing the teachers union contract.
Those changes could include a longer school day and year, required teacher training and more control over staffing – all things Cash says are essential to improve student performance.
In a 107-page ruling released Monday, Elia largely imposes Cash’s proposals with some modifications that call for giving teachers more notice of contractual changes and preference for other jobs, should they be displaced from their position. She also recommends that a committee created to assist with staffing at the receivership schools be limited to three or five people, and consist of an odd number to prevent deadlock between union and district representatives.
Those powers Elia is giving Kriner Cash to bust the Buffalo teachers union and essentially privatize "Buffalo's most struggling" public schools come courtesy of Cuomo's receivership program that was shoved through in the last state budget by the governor.
Cuomo, who last year promised to "break" the public school monopoly, has given NYSED the tools to do just that with this receivership law that allows them to take over schools and circumvent union contracts and what is happening in Buffalo is expected to happen elsewhere around the state too.
It's not an accident that even as Cuomo provides NYSED with the power to bust the teachers union he's rallying with other unions over a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage.
Cuomo, ever the pragmatist, is bending on some of his economic policies (like that $13 dollar an hour minimum wage he said couldn't happen in NY) - but this bending is so that he can continue to triangulate on other issues like his privatization/teachers union-busting agenda.
Sure, but that's just how this governor operates - and he learned it from the master, Bill Clinton, who was his boss back in the 1990's.