Co-Founder of Dryden Safe Energy Coalition
Andrew Cuomo is playing hunger games and using Trojan horses to empty out Upstate as he seeks to further increase his personal control over the Empire State.
Andrew Cuomo said, “I’ve done more for Upstate economic development than any governor in the history of the state of New York”. With friends like Cuomo, who needs enemies?
In reality, upstate New York job growth has been less than a quarter of the national average with an outright loss of manufacturing jobs. Cuomo’s “Hunger Games” awards have mostly wasted over $3 billion supporting such economic development projects as bike trails and empty film studios.
Some might ask; what went wrong? But the better question is; was it ever intended to succeed? To answer why Cuomo’s upstate economic development policies were never meant to succeed, it is necessary to first understand the political situation in New York.
In the two legislative bodies that control New York State government, the leaders of the majority party in the legislatures (the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader) are extremely powerful and little gets done without their personal approval. Cuomo’s party controls the New York Assembly with 106 of 150 seats, about 75 of which are New York City area Democrats, so there is no real hope of change there.
Democrats control 31 of the 63 seats in the New York Senate, Republicans control 31 and one is held by a Brooklyn Senator named Simcha Felder who ran on both the Republican and Democrat lines. Senator Felder caucuses with the Republicans, giving them control and a Republican Majority Leader. (If you are wondering why a Brooklyn Senator sits with the Republicans, his district voted for Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections.)
A Republican Majority leader in the Senate prevents much of Cuomo’s and New York City’s craziness from becoming law. The only thing, in fact, keeping Cuomo from complete political control of the state hangs by a thread. If Felder should change and caucus with the Democrats or, if one seat flips in the upcoming election, Cuomo then controls the Senate and it’s goodbye Upstate.
The above facts are pretty much indisputable, which brings us back to the question, of why Cuomo’s economic development plans were never meant to substantially help upstate New York. The answer lies in Cuomo’s ultimate plan to gain the majority in the State Senate so a Democrat becomes the powerful Majority Leader. In 2020, there will be a national Census and in 2021 the legislative districts will be redistricted to reflect that Census. When the population shifts more to the New York City area, it will gain Senate seats (Democrats for sure), Upstate will lose Republican seats and the Majority Leader will become a Democrat (and most likely a NY City Democrat).
Cuomo’s economic policies have not stopped population loss in Upstate, but do support his goal of a Democratic and New York City oriented Senate. When jobs disappear the population follows them. Out-migration to other states has exceeded in-migration from other states, even in New York City. While Upstate NY’s total population has shrunk, the City’s total population has grown slightly because of immigration. (Did you really believe sanctuary cities were all about social justice?) Cuomo just needs to continue the current trends and he is guaranteed Senate control in 2022 as Senate seats shift from Upstate to the New York City area. That is political reality.
Cuomo and Democrats don’t mind wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on failed economic projects as they maneuver to gain political control via a depopulated Upstate. Remember, Cuomo’s economic plans for Upstate always emphasize tourism and agriculture, which just happen to be the two lowest paying sectors of the economy and many of those jobs are seasonal. While I, and probably many of you, like tourism and agriculture, who would try to build a strong Upstate economy based on the lowest paying sectors of the economy?
The answer, of course, is Andrew Cuomo, since he does not want a strong upstate economy.
The greatest threat Cuomo’s plan faced was shale gas development that would have turned around the Upstate economy and stabilized the population so as to offset the City’s growth due to immigration. We only need to look a few miles south of the New York border to understand such development could ruin Cuomo’s plans.
Cuomo’s plan was multi-faceted as one of his other major initiatives has been consolidation under the guise of budget savings. But, most savings are illusory and consolidating governments makes the state easier to control from Albany. It’s easier to control 63 counties than the hundreds of towns and villages – none of which are located in New York City – and Andrew Cuomo is nothing if not about ever more control.
The tragedy in all this is the human cost of Cuomo’s plan, which he callously ignores. Families with long histories in Upstate are being torn apart as sons and daughters must seek jobs in other states. New York has a huge, state funded, system of higher education but, after state taxpayers have funded their education, the graduates must move to other states to find a job.
That’s the problem, but what is the solution? What can we do to stop the Cuomo express since he is well on his way to depopulating Upstate?
Most immediately, we have to maintain control of the New York State Senate or Cuomo’s plan is inevitable. This means holding all 31 Republican seats in 2018 and flipping some of the current Democratic seats. Where are the potential flips? Of the 31 Democratic Senators, only 5 are located outside of the New York City area: one each in Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany and two on Long Island.
While we, in Upstate, tend to ignore Long Island, it should be noted the two Long Island Democratic seats just flipped from Republican in the 2016 election and by small margins. It’s quite possible these two seats are better candidates for flipping than the three in Upstate. (The City of Albany, for instance, has not had a Republican mayor since the 1920’s.) There’s not much natural gas under Long Island but pro-fracking groups in Upstate need to push our Upstate politicians and Upstate political committees and the state Republican committee to field strong candidates on Long Island and then we must financially support those candidates. It’s important to flip some seats no matter where they may be.
We need to get Upstate residents registered and voting. New York City Democrats don’t vote heavily in off year elections such as 2018 and both the governorship and Senate Democratic seats could be at risk if we can motivate people to register and vote in order to save their jobs, their rights and their families. Effective registration and get-out-to-vote campaigns are vital.
The pro natural gas community can seek and work with allies in unrelated areas; groups who share our dislike of Cuomo and the need to save Upstate. We may not agree with these groups on all the issues but, we certainly agree far less with Cuomo and New York City Democrats.
There are, for example, some 4-6 million gun owners in the state but, in the 2014 gubernatorial election, there were less than four million votes cast altogether. By my calculation, only a few more than one million gun owners may have voted. There is a group ripe for cultivating the vote since Cuomo’s 2013 gun control legislation, the Safe Act, is a major issue with them and they live everywhere. You may not like guns or perhaps some gun owners don’t like fracking, but I’ll bet that almost all dislike Cuomo more. We must focus on the bigger picture, which is to save Upstate from Cuomo and the New York City domination.
Of course, it’s well established the two major impediments to NY State’s economy are high taxes and stifling regulations. But, that will not change until we change governors. While we may not see much effect in New York State, for the reasons I’ve described, we have just seen what a change in Washington can do for the economy in most states. A change in governors could work wonders for the economy, primarily by unleashing natural gas development in time to stem the population loss in Upstate before the 2020 census.
Finally, we need to let our upstate politicians know we are not fooled by the “Trojan Horse” economic policies of Andrew Cuomo. We must insist on incentives that are effective and do not throw away taxpayer dollars on programs that were never intended to succeed.