The following appears in the January 25-31, 2013 issue of the Long Island Business News:
In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke for a very long 78 minutes describing his leftist plans for the Empire State.
Cuomo, who governed from the center during his first two years in office, is now showing his true colors. He carried on about abortion rights, climate change, higher minimum wage and so-called campaign finance reform.
Screaming at the top of his lungs four times, “It’s her body; it’s her choice!” was pandering to the radical pro-abortion lobby at its worst.
New York has had the nation’s most liberal abortion statute on the books since 1970. If the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was suddenly overturned, it would sadly have no impact on our state.
As for economic development in upstate’s distressed counties, Cuomo listed ad nauseam standard pie-in-the-sky proposals, including a $1 billion green fund to finance new Solyndras.
He was mum, however, on the industry that’s guaranteed to create tens of thousands of new jobs and generate plenty of local tax revenues: the natural gas extraction method commonly called fracking. To please radical environmental ideologues, Cuomo is sitting on a report that concludes fracking is safe.
State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, best described the governor’s agenda, saying, “He circled back to liberal, and went to meet his dad, Mario.”
The governor did shout that he would not raise taxes during the remainder of his first term. That was an easy sop to the right because he raised state income taxes last year.
Cuomo patted himself on the back for the cap on property tax increases he signed into law in 2011, but failed to mention unfunded mandate relief for county and local governments. In fact, in his 300-page book, “New York Rising,” distributed after his speech, I could find only scant reference to mandate reform.
The tax cap limits the annual property tax increase to 2 percent or to the inflation rate, whichever is higher. There are exemptions for debt service payments and government employee pension contributions, which makes the effective rate of increase about 3.5 percent. Also, local legislatures could override the cap with a super-majority vote of 60 percent.
The cap proposal was a good first step to rein in local spending and I supported it. Yet the cap does not mean much if there isn’t corresponding mandate relief.
Cuomo’s claim that he addressed the primary budget cost driver – annual pension contributions – is nonsense.
The new pension Tier VI promises mild restraint only on the unborn, that is, future hires. It does nothing to curtail spiraling costs for present retirees and employees. E.J. McMahon, of the Manhattan Institute, has called projections that this new tier will save taxpayers $80 billion during the next three decades “meaningless and speculative.”
There are over 2,000 unfunded state mandates that are driving many local governments into insolvency. One of the most onerous is the Triborough Amendment, which forbids municipal employees from altering “terms and conditions of employment” after a contract has expired.
As a result, government employee unions have no incentive to seriously negotiate, since their members are guaranteed pay increases even in the absence of a contract.
If Cuomo is really serious about mandate reform, he will veto legislation this year renewing the expiring Triborough Amendment. But don’t hold your breath.
Until the governor is willing to take on the environmentalists and the government employee unions, all his talk of revitalizing the state’s economy, particularly upstate, will be just that, talk.
New York will continue to have the nation’s highest combined state and local taxes, the highest state and local government spending per capita and the worst business climate.