WASHINGTON – According to the blog BuzzFeed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted the support of the Working Families Party in this election so badly that a national labor leader was brought in to help broker the deal.
There’s nothing wrong with asking Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to help, and nothing wrong with his influence in this instance. But for New Yorkers, Cuomo’s insistence on winning the support of the tiny Working Families Party could be a bookmark, even a guidepost on New York’s future.
Cuomo slid noiselessly into the Working Families Party endorsement last time, in 2010. This time, he had to hotly compete for it at the party’s convention in May with a video, and with some important promises. One of the most significant is Cuomo’s promise to break the power of a group of Democrats in the State Senate who had been helping Cuomo pursue moderate policies.
Cuomo promised the Working Families Party, which accounted for less than 1 percent of the total 2010 vote, to “pursue a raft of progressive goals” including a minimum wage hike, according to the New York Times. Like the Trumka call, there’s nothing wrong per se with following a progressive path like President Obama and like New York City’s liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wants to raise state taxes on the rich.
The problem raised by the governor’s ardent pursuit of the Working Families Party is the impression he had given leaders in upstate New York, including private job providers in an economically threatened region. This was a governor in 2011 who was not going to make things worse.
New York State is two economies. There is the one involving Westchester County south, and that is driven by the great port and its financial markets. This is still modestly growing, but not robustly.
Then there is the other economy, upstate, which is not growing, but has shrunk so much since 1960 that the continuation of traditions like the Buffalo Bills is seriously threatened.
Cuomo, to his credit, appears to be doing all he can to keep the Bills in Buffalo after the team’s current lease expires six years from now. But more important than that is the viability, the business climate, of upstate and its status in the tax world.
Upstate is either at the bottom or one rung from the bottom in the nation’s tax and regulatory climate. Cuomo and his allies have tried to compensate for this with special tax relief programs that encourage employment on sites near state-allied facilities, such as the university and the medical campus. Several states have such programs.
Whether in New York these can make a big difference is arguable, considering the other costs and redundant regulation. And it does raise valid questions about government-controlled winners and losers – meaning favoritism.
Moreover, Cuomo has spent nearly four years leaving most of the other state cost centers, such as public authorities and regional commissions, fully intact. The only plausible reason is that these boards and their salaries form part of any governor’s core constituency.
Questions: How desperately does New York need more generous rules, for example, for getting on welfare? De Blasio is moving in that direction. Would a re-elected Cuomo, backed by the Working Families Party, follow suit? Where will that party lead Cuomo in a second term in addition to his promise to turn the State Senate hard left?
Cuomo’s potential leftward shift offers an interesting option for voters, with Republican candidate Rob Astorino offering government economies where private growth has a chance. Without it, is upstate as a region going to resemble Rhode Island, with its aging and dependent population and no growth?