By MIKE LONG
Lord Acton, the great English statesman, famously observed that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” After almost 30 months as New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo has left no doubt that his most important governing principle is acquiring more political power, not advancing the public good.
The overriding issue for this state is the lack of jobs and economic growth. The barriers to economic expansion are high taxes, a hostile regulatory climate toward business and the unions’ hammerlock on public policy. Gov. Cuomo, for all his rhetoric, has done nothing meaningful on these fronts.
Indeed, Cuomo again raised taxes on the successful this year; the top tax rate now exceeds 50 percent for those living in New York City, creating new incentives to leave the state. He also raised taxes on everyone who pays a utility bill, and looted over $1.75 billion from a state fund that’s supposed to pay for workers’ comp benefits.
Then he had the audacity to siphon over $100 million from so-called “independent” authorities to pay for TV ads telling New Yorkers he cut taxes and that the state is “open for business.”
With numerous politicians recently caught with their hands in the till, Cuomo’s response is to say we need new laws — as if the culprits were unaware of existing laws against stealing. He also wants public campaign financing, as if paying politicians to run for office will suddenly transform them into paragons of virtue.
Why does the governor say so many things that are distortions or downright betrayals of the truth? He’s clearly assuming that the people are either too dumb or inattentive to understand what he’s really doing.
His latest ploy, “Tax Free NY,” is intended to divert attention away from New York’s well-deserved reputation as a tax hell. The state would award favored businesses and their employees who locate on a SUNY campus (and maybe also a CUNY campus) a tax-free status for up to 10 years. Conveniently, the process to get these benefits would require approval from the governor’s appointees.
The predictable result: Moneyed interests will game the system, hiring favored lobbyists who’ll peddle connections to Cuomo as a path to success — and filling the governor’s campaign coffers with tribute. After all, that’s the New York way — the scheme’s just a 21st century version of the “legal graft” praised by Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkett.
Meanwhile, Cuomo peddles numerous falsehoods in other areas. The right to abortion — under no threat in New York — is somehow the new urgent cause. Equal pay for women — the law for almost 50 years — is also cynically raised as another right being threatened.
Why does Cuomo push these things? Because he has no solution to the twin problems of high taxes and a lack of jobs.
He’s botched the chance for environmentally safe natural-gas development Upstate. This industry would create tens of thousands of private-sector jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue for state and local government. Other states are reaping the benefits, but Cuomo won’t cross the elitists who simply oppose all forms of carbon-based energy.
Cuomo could reduce the cost of government with genuine reform of public-sector-labor laws that are sucking taxpayers dry and crowding out funding for other needs. He pays lip service to mandate relief, but won’t offend public-union bosses.
The governor could reduce health premiums by eliminating over $4 billion in state taxes on insurance — but that’s not on his agenda. He could bring badly needed private capital into our hospital system by letting public firms enter the business, as they do in virtually every other state. Again, not on his agenda.
Cuomo could do many things to improve the public good in New York. Instead, he schemes, manipulates and bullies. One can only hope that the public stirs from its slumber and begins to see the real character of the man occupying the Capitol in Albany.
Surely, Lord Acton would have no difficulty in recognizing Andrew Cuomo for what he has become.
Michael Long is the chairman of the state Conservative Party.