A New York Times report about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to revitalize the industrial city of Buffalo with $1 billion of investments tells an ugly story about how New York State makes policy:
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has repeatedly praised the Buffalo Billion’s successes, citing new jobs, new buildings and a new optimism in the city. But federal investigators’ interest seems to lie less with whether the people of Buffalo will ultimately benefit than with those who already have: a tangle of well-connected players — including developers and frequent donors to the governor — who have feasted on Buffalo Billion money.
The federal inquiry, led by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, has now metastasized across the state and reached all the way to the governor’s office. But its first stirrings became apparent in Buffalo last year, when prosecutors subpoenaed state institutions responsible for SolarCity and two other components of the Buffalo Billion program, seeking information about how government-funded projects were awarded and what role state officials played in selecting the winners.
Southern District Attorney Preet Bharara has been circling Cuomo since the governor shut down an anti-corruption commission under somewhat questionable circumstances a few years ago. Bharara never managed to dig up much dirt on the governor himself but, freshly emboldened after successfully prosecuting New York’s two most powerful legislators, he seems to be making another go of it. The Southern District is building a case against Cuomo’s former top aide and longtime friend, Joe Percoco, on the grounds that Percoco illegally consulted for a company which had business with the State of New York.
There’s still no evidence that Cuomo engaged in corrupt behavior himself. Moreover, Albany has had ethics problems going back to the nineteenth century. When Teddy Roosevelt arrived in Albany as a freshman legislator, he described his colleagues as “a stupid, sodden vicious lot, most of them being equally deficient in brains and virtue” in his personal diary and spilled much ink cataloguing their corrupt dealings. So it’s not exactly fair to blame Governor Cuomo for the deep rot in the faceless monstrosities which house the government in Albany.
But Andrew Cuomo has now been in office since 2010, and he was supposed to be a reformer. In addition to rooting out corruption, he promised to mix traditional progressive policy prescriptions with more innovative solutions—tax-free zones upstate was one promising idea. Instead, Cuomo has caved to New York’s progressive constituencies, in particular environmentalists and unions. The result is a devastating policy framework for depressed upstate New York: a rising minimum wage that’s likely to kill jobs in towns that are already bleeding them and a ban on fracking in a state with rich undeveloped natural resources. The sad irony is that the shady deals to get money to cash-strapped municipalities like Buffalo became all the more urgent because the governor and legislators made those places even less attractive for business than they already were.
This is what the blue model has been reduced to in 2016: massive crony stimulus injections which serve as compensation for sacrifices made on the altars of environmentalism and organized labor.
Governor Cuomo likes to call New York the “progressive capital” of America. If New York State is what 2016 progressivism looks like, then that’s not exactly a compliment to either progressives or the Empire State.