By Ralph Nader
When liberals and progressives have nowhere to go, New York’s new Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo can move toward the corporatist-right of the political spectrum with impunity. Brandishing an inherited $10 billion state deficit, Cuomo has earned the following description in the April 7th edition of The New York Times:
“He has clashed with unions, who he believes have helped drive the state toward bankruptcy. He has been praised by prominent conservatives like Sarah Palin and Rudolph W. Giuliani. And he has taken thousands of dollars in campaign money from the New York billionaire David H. Koch, who with his family has helped finance the Tea Party movement….
“The man who began public life advocating for homeless people won passage of a state budget that makes steep cuts to schools, health care and social services. In a year when Wall Street posted record profits, Mr. Cuomo finally rejected a politically popular income tax surcharge on the wealthy.”
Praised by the Wall Street Journal and the republican raptor, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who calls Andrew Cuomo “my soul mate,” the son of moral vision orator, former Governor Mario Cuomo, is on a roll unchallenged by his fellow Democrats and the media. Using the deficit—which is far less per capita than Connecticut’s deficit—he revels in being “Cuomo the cutter”: “I am a realist… Forget the philosophy. Here are the numbers.”
Mr. Cuomo picks his numbers so that the cuts fall on the lower economic classes, the powerless along with the reviled public employee unions. Granted, there is waste fraud or ineffectiveness in many social service programs, but Governor Cuomo is cutting the programs indiscriminately without cutting them by squeezing out the waste and eliminating ineffective programs directly.
What results is that the wasteful practitioners know how to fight to preserve their programs better than the efficient ones do. The former have allies like well-connected corporate vendors with their procurement contracts.
But there is a more blatant misfocus by Cuomo. It is his fear of Wall Street whose crooks, speculators and self-enrichment pros collapsed the economy, looting or draining savings and pensions in 2008-2009 leading to much unemployment and many closed businesses that, through the loss of tax revenue, expanded the state deficit. He refuses even to speak about holding these spoiled, back-to-business-as-usual financial giants responsible.
On the contrary he is rejecting an extension of the tax surcharge on New Yorkers and residing foreigners who make over $200,000 dollars in income a year, which expires this December. It is so much easier to tax the faceless masses. Already, lower income New Yorkers pay a slightly higher percentage of their income in all taxes imposed than do the wealthy. Regressive!
It gets worse. During his campaign for Governor, Mr. Cuomo refused to even contemplate keeping the $14 billion (some estimate higher amounts) a year that the state collects from a century-old stock transfer tax, but instantly rebates, what is really a sales tax, back to the stock brokers. New York used to keep this tax revenue until the early Eighties, when Wall Street pressure finally prevailed. Green Party candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, during a public debate argued that keeping these revenues would eliminate the deficit and prevent the reduction of necessary programs. On that stage, Mr. Cuomo refused to engage. Mum’s the word on Wall Street’s fair share.
Cuomo calls himself “a progressive Democrat who’s broke.” A progressive Democrat would push for sacrifice at the wealthy top and work down if necessary. Many of the wealthy derived their billions and millions from many favored policies like tax leniency and other privileges and immunities including violation of the law (some of whom Cuomo pursued as Attorney General.)
After all corporate lobbyists work hard to produce many layers of favoritism, including selling products and services to the state government, that are as profitable as they are often wasteful. Consider, for example, the immense gouging in the outsourcing of CityTime—a large ongoing contract to computerize the New York City payroll (http://www.nyc.gov/html/opa/html/about/city_time.shtml).
The costs of health care reflect big time fraud in billing practices. Should a Governor just cut benefits across the board—stranding indigent patients to suffer or die—or should he crack down on the cheating and stealing that too many vendors have refined to perfection?
To be sure it is quicker to slice arbitrarily, but there is no indication that key cost-beneficial law enforcement budgets against business crime are going to increase on Governor Cuomo’s watch.
Mr. Cuomo did relent on one budget provision, which would have enriched the hospital and insurance lobbies placing a lifetime $250,000 cap on serious baby injuries from malpractice. That was too much to defend by this “progressive Democrat” in Albany. Credit the Center for Justice and Democracy for urging that good deed (www.centerjd.org).
How far will elected Democrats from the White House on down go in capitulating to the insatiable corporate dominators if their liberal/progressive base continues to signal that they politically have nowhere to go? These voters seem to have few visible breaking points on the dark horizon of over-reaching corporatism.