Why Governor Cuomo's liberal suit may get some conservative tailoring

In a number of ways, Mario M. Cuomo, New York's new governor, has told the people of his state he is still a typical liberal politician. His recent State of the State message showed he intends to rely heavily on borrowing, through nearly $7 billion of proposed revenue bonds. And his overtures to the organized labor interests who helped elect him were direct and abundant.

But a series of circumstances beyond the governor's control, including a Republican-dominated state Senate and the prospect of the biggest state budget deficit in many years, may force Mr. Cuomo to don a more conservative label. Critics say if he refuses to shed his ''arch liberal'' image - he prefers the label ''pragmatic progressive'' - the result could be a fiscal bombshell that may explode into insolvency.

Governor Cuomo, a Democrat who also ran on the Liberal ticket, promised to ''correct inequities'' in the state's Gargantuan pension system. He didn't spell them out in the speech. But it is no secret that one of his intended changes would fly directly in the face of any austerity drive: to put state workers who have retired since 1975 on a more equal and lucrative pension footing with those who retired before that year. This will cost the state many millions of dollars.

Similarly, Governor Cuomo's proposed bond sales for work on roads, waterways, housing, and other projects ''is a classic liberal position,'' says Charles Dumas, an aide to state Senate majority leader Warren -Anderson (R). ''It's borrowing, borrowing, borrowing all over again.''

Timothy Russert, counselor to the governor and his chief spokesman, says the Empire State's new governor ''will be pragmatic and intelligent enough to know that if a program has not worked to abandon it.''

On the other hand, Cuomo has already contradicted many of his liberal-Democratic colleagues by appointing Richard D. Simons, a Republican who had been serving as an associate justice of the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. A special judicial commission had recommended a Democrat, who is an Italian from New York City. This move was aimed at pleasing both Democrats and the Italian community. Cuomo rejected the recommendation and chose Judge Simons, who is widely respected by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Republicans and conservatives are watching closely to see if this may be part of more departures from Democratic ''politics as usual,'' as some hope and anticipate, or merely a slight detour.

Aside from the gap in the state budget, another thing may curb liberal spending policies: the narrow voter mandate given Cuomo.

In addition, Senator Anderson has let close associates know that the usual ''six-month honeymoon'' between a new governor and the Republican-controlled Senate will not be granted this year. Republicans are almost certain to put some liberal issues, such as help for the poor, the homeless, and the unemployed, on the back burner while the state attempts first to balance the budget.

So while Cuomo, with the exception of his criminal justice policies, may wear the cloth of a ''classic liberal,'' a good deal of tailoring is undoubtedly on the way.

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