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The Sacking of Albany

eye on the news

The Sacking of Albany

Taking stock of a destructive legislative session in the state capital June 24, 2019
Politics and law
New York
Economy, finance, and budgets

New York’s just-ended legislative session represents the triumph of the Left. The lawmakers dealt heavy blows to property rights and the rule of law, hammered the state’s long-term economic stability, and gave reason to fear for the continued viability of Upstate. New York City got a major tax hike, the state’s trial lawyers picked up a few juicy plums, violent criminals enjoyed a break, and aspiring charter school children caught a thumb in the eye.

On the positive side, it is now illegal to declaw cats in New York. Thank goodness for small mercies.

None of the damage came as a surprise: progressive Democrats promised all of it and more after assuming full control of the legislature last fall. It’s hard to imagine a more harmful approach to dealing with New York’s housing-affordability issues than the assault on property rights, market logic, and common sense embodied in the so-called Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who surely knows better, signed it. It repeals a generation of slow-motion, low-tenant-impact rent reforms designed to promote middle-income rental opportunities and removes virtually all incentive for current landlords to maintain their properties—or for investors to build new ones. Its principal beneficiaries are modestly upper-income, long-term residents of regulated apartments in Manhattan —and virtually no one else. The new law will apply to upstate cities, too.

Under a deluded mandate to end all carbon emissions in New York by 2050, the legislature gave the highly politicized Department of Environmental Conservation authority to regulate virtually every aspect of state energy production and consumption. The economically eviscerating nature of this legislation will become apparent as Albany attempts to replace reliable carbon-derived energy with windmills, solar panels, and who knows what else. The new law will exacerbate energy policies that have led to an economic shambles in the Southern Tier and further deprive the area of needed investment. Cuomo’s energy dogma, its effects currently strangling growth in Westchester County and on Long Island, has led directly to America’s highest power prices.

Meantime, following two generations of mandated-but-unfunded social spending, heavy tax increases, private-sector disinvestment, and ruinous energy policies, agriculture remains one of the few successful private-sector industries north of Westchester. But not for much longer. Farming took a heavy hit in the form of economically illiterate legislation clearing the way for unionized farm workers. Opponents tried to explain that farm products are commodities that must compete in national and international markets and that artificially increasing costs for New York farmers alone eventually will force them out of those markets. No one listened. This is another avoidable misfortune for upstate, one likely to have long-term negative consequences.

The legislature thumbed its collective nose at federal immigration policy and public sentiment by approving the issuance of drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens. It’s a policy certain to bring more illegals to the state and could well lead to noncitizen voting—as in fact it may be intended to do. Indeed, an accompanying voter-registration bill would have mandated registering illegals as part of the licensing process, but it  didn’t pass—this time.

Progressives are notoriously criminal-friendly, and while the damage in this realm could have been worse, it was bad enough. When a left-wing district attorney like Albany County’s David Soares warns that a new bill mandating no-bail, pre-trial release of violent offenders endangers minority communities, he should be heard. Efforts to require parole for aging felons and soften parole regulations fell short this time, but there’s always next year.

New York City’s 50,000-plus families now on charter-school waiting lists got no help from the legislature. A bill lifting the cap on the number of charters allocated for the city silently died, despite tepid support from Cuomo. This leaves thousands of minority children in subpar schools and ranks as one of the 2019 session’s worst moments.

Congestion-pricing bills were light on detail. All that’s certain is that they will raise billions in new revenue, allegedly to be directed to mass transit projects—but no effort was made to reform MTA contracting or work rules to provide reasonable value for new dollars spent. The unions rejoiced.

This is not a complete account of the legislature’s activities. History suggests that additional damaging legislation has been hidden away from public scrutiny, to become apparent only after it takes effect. So don’t be surprised at surprises. The legislature’s ebullient leaders—and an uncharacteristically muted Andrew Cuomo—say that they’re just getting warmed up. Best to believe them.

Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

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