New York’s political class has been radiating progressive outrage without pause since it became clear that Donald J. Trump would be America’s 45th president. The outrage reached its peak after the new administration published its immigration executive order. “As a New Yorker, I am a Muslim. I am a Jew. I am Black. I am gay. I am a woman seeking to control her body,” declared Empire State governor Andrew Cuomo. “President Trump’s executive order is simply un-American,” pronounced New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Never mind that the new policies seem to differ only marginally from Obama administration immigration strictures. And never mind that their clumsy rollout seemed designed to generate an over-the-top reaction.
The new administration’s suggestion that municipalities may lose federal aid for refusing to obey immigration laws as they relate to illegal aliens—that is, by making themselves so-called “sanctuary cities”—drove up the decibel level at the outset. But such sanctions are far from the only dark cloud threatening New York’s political culture, to say nothing of its fiscal stability. New York isn’t alone in its objections to Trump administration immigration policies, but the level of New York’s sanctimony places the Empire State in a class by itself.
That some state and local officials disapprove of federal immigration law is obvious, as is the fact that for some time they’ve been working to subvert the rules. For decades, big city mayors have been refusing to cooperate with federal immigration cops, in effect placing themselves above the law on the grounds that they disapprove of it. It doesn’t help that the Obama administration was, at best, ambivalent about sanctuary cities.
New York politicians have been remarkably disingenuous on the issue. “As I’ve said before, I say again today, if there is a move to deport immigrants, I say then start with me,” grandstanded Cuomo, who was born and raised in Queens, as was his late father, Mario. Trump’s immigration policy “does not change who we are or how we go about our work,” proclaimed de Blasio. “This is a city of immigrants. We always have been for almost 400 years.” This is self-evidently true, but essentially irrelevant, given that the issue is not history or custom but rather respect for the rule of law.
The sanctuary-city debate is more than academic. In its most extreme application, a cutoff of federal aid to noncompliant municipalities could cost New York City hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. Public safety, anti-terrorism, and health-care funding will be hardest hit. It may not come to that—certainly not without protracted litigation—and de Blasio suggests that the city could absorb the bulk of such cuts, anyway. But who’s to doubt that an explosive debate is in the works? More than sanctuary-city penalties are at stake. Trump’s victory last November was about nothing if not national impatience with political elitism of the sort reflected in the sanctuary-city rhetoric common in New York.
Cuomo and de Blasio are speaking to their respective political bases when they declare New York to be above the law on immigration, but the lawlessness doesn’t stop there. New York is one of the nation’s leading energy consumers, yet it ostentatiously refuses to help produce any. Cuomo’s unilateral ban on hydraulic fracturing earns him points with Empire State environmentalists, but the message it sends to the rest of America is pretty clear, too: New York will gobble up megawatts like Girl Scout cookies while leaving it to other states to do the dirty work of hydrocarbon extraction. The state habitually ignores the rules of economics, in addition to the commonly accepted duties of citizenship, like obeying immigration laws. While the consequences have been a long time coming, they may well have arrived with President Trump.
New York spends beyond its means to support programs of varying degrees of social utility, many of them wholly or in part unique to the state. To a large extent, New York has gotten away with it because state and local taxes are deductible against federal income taxes. That is, while Albany created the nation’s most expansive Medicaid program, and when Gotham declared free housing to be a basic human right, the associated spending was in effect subsidized by federal taxpayers all across America.
Trump, with the backing of House speaker Paul Ryan, has proposed ending tax deductibility, or at least scaling it back. This could end up costing New York filers as much as $68 billion annually, or roughly $4,500 for each taxpayer who itemizes deductions. Ending deductibility is hardly a new idea; it pops up whenever serious federal tax reform is proposed. But it has never been on the table before in the context of a red-state/blue-state policy dichotomy, with the red states holding most of the cards. New Yorkers shouldn’t assume that Republican members of Congress, many of whom have long resented what they see as a subsidy of profligate blue-state spending, will blink this time.
New York’s political and policy elite like to cast themselves as somehow exempt from the customs and conventions that bind most Americans. They do it in ways that many west of the Hudson River find contemptuous and condescending. The Trump ascension has everyone sailing uncharted waters, but it really does seem that the political math has changed. New York’s elected leaders would do well to recognize that change and to scale back their intemperate, self-serving rhetoric.
Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images