“The test is not the articulation but the implementation,” the tweet read, in response to the release of President Trump’s $4.4 trillion spending plan. “Government excels at rhetoric but fails in results. Overly complicated efforts are destined to fail. We know how to build. We just need the funding.” The words could have come from the mayor of any upstate New York locality, railing at Albany and its first citizen, Governor Andrew Cuomo. But the tweet came from Cuomo himself, demonstrating not only a lack of self-awareness on the governor’s part but also tone-deafness to irony.
“We know how to build,” the governor says. Well, not really, the record shows. The New York Times made the case for caution in December, detailing the delays and cost overruns in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access project—a rail tunnel connecting the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. The current cost of $3.5 billion per mile makes this the most expensive trackage on the planet.
So when Cuomo says “we just need the funding,” he shouldn’t be surprised by the eye-rolling that ensues. He has overseen the MTA for seven-plus years and done nothing to correct the inefficiencies that produced the East Side Access debacle and similar budget blowouts that have haunted the Second Avenue Subway project ($2.5 billion per mile). Nor has he even mentioned the work rules and featherbedding that make public construction so expensive in New York. He has done nothing to reform the system.
When Cuomo tweets that “the test is not the articulation but the implementation,” it’s hard to argue, but the principle applies richly to his own administration. As for “Government excels at rhetoric but fails in results,” those words could be chiseled into upstate New York’s economic tombstone. The man who took office pledging to be upstate’s savior pumped hundreds of millions into “economic development” schemes north of Yonkers. He has virtually nothing to show for the investment, save fat campaign-treasury accounts and an embarrassing corruption trial now underway. The man who once all but assured insiders that hydraulic fracking—an economic godsend elsewhere—was coming to New York wound up banning fracking, offering gambling casinos instead. Now the United States is on the verge of energy independence because of fracking, with an economic boom taking place in shale-rich local economies from North Dakota to Pennsylvania—but not New York, where Cuomo’s casinos are foundering. So, yes: government indeed “excels at rhetoric” but all too often “fails in results.” Just ask New Yorkers in the Southern Tier.
“Overly complicated efforts,” Cuomo lectures, “are destined to fail.” Time will tell if that observation applies to the governor’s panicky attempts to soften the impact of President Trump’s tax reforms. “Washington hit a button and launched an economic missile and it says ‘New York’ on it, and it’s headed our way,” the governor declared. His claim that the loss of tax deductibility means a $14 billion tax increase for New Yorkers—“everybody’s taxes go up 25 percent”—is preposterous. Some New Yorkers will be hard hit, namely high-income earners who already carry a vastly disproportionate share of the state income-tax burden. But most New Yorkers will see their total tax bill go down. Meanwhile, Cuomo’s proposed remedies—essentially converting the personal income tax into a payroll tax and relabeling some taxes “charitable contributions”—are unrealistic, verging on “overly complicated.”
Just as the governor’s rhetorical skills desert him when the topic is infrastructure cost overruns, he has nothing to say about the root causes of the problem: spending in New York is too damn high. “We know how to spend,” Cuomo could have tweeted. “We just need the deductibility.”
Photo: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State