Tag: andrew cuomo

New York Is Open for Business, Cuomo Style

Danny Hakim of the New York Times tells us how state government works under Andrew Cuomo, in an in-depth investigation of the Empire State Development Corporation:

New York State’s economic development agency created a new position last June, and then found a candidate to fill it: a young man named Willard Younger, who had just graduated from Colgate University with a degree in classics and religion. He became a special projects associate, at a salary of $45,000 a year, according to state personnel records.

His father, Stephen P. Younger, is a lawyer and power broker in legal circles who was a member of one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s transition teams. He has also donated $26,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaigns over the years, disclosure records show.

The next month, the agency hired 23-year-old Andrew Moelis, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, for another new position, strategic planning associate, at a salary of $75,000 a year.

Shortly before Mr. Moelis’s first day of work, his father, Ron Moelis, a prominent real estate developer, gave $25,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign, according to the records.

Check out the return on investment available to political donations: give $25,000, get $75,000 within a year. I wonder if any of Mr. Moelis’s real estate developments offered such an ROI. As I wrote many years ago in the Wall Street Journal:

Business people know that you have to invest to make money. Businesses invest in factories, labor, research and development, marketing, and all the other processes that bring goods to consumers and, they hope, lead to profits. They also invest in political processes that may yield profits.

If more money can be made by investing in Washington than by drilling another oil well, money will be spent there….

Every dollar spent by the federal government ends up in someone’s pocket as a salary, a transfer payment, a subsidy, a purchase or a loan. But there are other valuable services available, too: regulations that eliminate or hamstring your competitors, for instance, or a tax provision that induces consumers to purchase your product.

But “jobs for the boys” can also be a way to reward political supporters. And if it’s a job for your own boy, so much the better.

Agencies like this can also be very helpful to a politician with larger ambitions:

Empire State has also hired friends of Mr. Cuomo who may help form his political brain trust should he decide to run for president in 2016.

James P. Rubin, a former State Department spokesman, was hired at the agency in 2011 as counselor on competitiveness and international affairs, with a salary of $150,000 a year. Mr. Rubin’s appointment was seen by political consultants as a move by Mr. Cuomo to add a foreign policy hand to his stable.

Empire State hired 49 people in the first 20 months of the Cuomo administration, according to personnel records obtained by The Times. Nearly a third were the governor’s political associates, donors and friends, or their relatives, the records and interviews show.

At least seven of the new hires with connections were placed in newly created positions.

We hear a lot about austerity in government today. We hear that “state and local government coffers [are] empty.” We hear that spending has been “cut to the bone.” I’d say that the Empire State Development Corporation would be a good place to save the New York taxpayers $741.8 million this year.

A Cosmetic Gun Law

Last night, the New York Senate passed far-reaching reforms to New York’s gun laws. The law should easily pass the Assembly and then be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Almost assuredly, this law will save no lives and stop no mass shootings. In fact, it may make New Yorkers less safe. 

I invite you to read over the previsions of the law—expanding the definition of already-banned “assault” weapons, banning the sale of magazines that hold over seven rounds, a requirement that licenses be renewed every five years—and ask if there is a single would-be killer out there who would be hampered by such restrictions in a country where he is already surrounded by 300 million guns? It is simply unreasonable to think that any unstable person with plans for mass carnage will be stopped by only having seven rounds per magazine. The Virginia Tech shooter, after all, solved this “problem” by carrying a bag with 19 magazines.

And how could this law make New Yorkers less safe? First, the law will inevitably limit law-abiding citizens’ access to weapons, and those citizens may need those weapons to protect themselves or others from a crime. At minimum, this occurs 108,000 times per year, according to the federal government’s National Crime Victimization Survey, and it likely occurs far more than that (you can read more about defensive gun use in the Cato study Tough Targets).

Second, onerous gun restrictions tend to drive gun purchasers underground. Those black and illicit markets are further expanded by gun-control advocates’ attempts to shame and demonize those who own firearms and enjoy using them in a responsible manner (for example, the recent Gawker exposé publishing the names and addresses of gun owners in New York City, who were blatantly described as “a**holes,” as well as the Journal News publishing similar data for gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties). Moreover, as J.D. Tuccille recently documented in Reason, evading gun restrictions is not just a national pastime, it is an international pastime. Tuccille writes that there are approximately 58,000 registered gun owners in New York City, but that the Justice Department estimates that there are about 2 million illegal guns in the city. 

Pushing more of the gun trade underground by passing onerous restrictions and creating bureaucratic labyrinths impairs our ability to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.   

Some aspects of the law, such as the requirement that mental health professionals report patients who they believe are likely to harm themselves or others, seem like an honest attempt to prevent dangerous people from having guns. However, the requirement violates the traditional rules of therapist/patient confidentiality, and unfortunately it will likely do more to dissuade people from seeking help out of fear that they may be disarmed by the state.  

Governor Cuomo’s statement—“Enough people have lost their lives. Let’s act”—shows that this law is more an example of the “something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done” tendency in politics rather than a carefully considered bill that offers workable solutions to the problem. In many ways, this is the biggest harm of these cosmetic gun laws: lawmakers can pat themselves on the back and incorrectly say, “we saved some lives today” and then move on to other tasks while having done nothing to solve the problem. 

Why the Rush, Governor Cuomo?

Legislation rushed through passage is invariably bad law. And the gun bill that emerged overnight from the New York State Legislature, on its first day back, will surely be no exception. Written in private by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders and completed late yesterday, “rank-and-file Senators had only a few minutes to read the legislation before voting on it,” the New York Times reports. “If there is an issue that fits the definition of necessity,” Cuomo intoned, “I believe it’s gun violence.” Really! So pressing are events that the normal three-day waiting period, so legislators could study the bill, had to be waived?

So what do we have? A bill that bans, as “assault weapons,” semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and “one military-style feature,” and semiautomatic shotguns with such a feature. And what is a “military-style feature”? We’ve seen this play before. New Yorkers who already have such guns can keep them, but they’ll have to be registered. Expect litigation on all of those points. Once again, it’s the law-abiding people this bill will affect, not those we have to worry about.

But if the gun part of the bill is problematic, the mental health part is even more so. Mental health professionals would be required “to report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others,” the Times tells us, the failure of which would not be sanctioned if they acted “in good faith.” Here again, as with the guns, we imagine that all we need is more law to address what is doubtless the most difficult part of the problem. The implications for confidentiality and, more important still, for encouraging people to seek help, are deeply troubling.

Yet the most important measure that could be taken immediately—one that has proven to reduce deaths from random mass shootings—seems to be missing altogether from this bill, despite the fact that two-thirds of Americans support it. It is to have armed security officials at schools and other currently “gun-free zones.” This act is likely to have little effect on the real problem, however much it makes those who promoted and passed it feel good. 

Shades of Nixon

Reason magazine has a characteristically excellent video about the gas shortages in New York and New Jersey. Which is to say, the video is really about the insane responses of officials in those states to the scarcity of gas. Reason’s Jim Epstein writes: “Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo…threatened to prosecute any station owners caught raising prices, thus removing any incentive to truck more gas in from other parts of the country.” Here’s the video:

The Washington Post reports Christie responded with an age-old government-rationing scheme:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered…drivers with even-numbered license plates being allowed to fill up on even-numbered dates and odd-numbered cars on the other days. But several motorists said they hadn’t heard the news because they had no power at home, and gas station managers said they didn’t bother to look at the plates.

“I don’t have any time to check plates,” David Singh said as he pumped gas into a car at the Delta station he manages on McCarter Highway in Newark.

So not everyone heard about the government’s rationing scheme, and even fewer people cared. You know what conveys information a lot better than tired government edicts? Market prices.

Fortunately, market prices are still breaking through:

Shauron Sears, 37, a waitress, said she spent 12 hours vainly waiting for gas on Friday and another hour waiting Saturday at a Sunoco station on McCarter Highway. Just as she got to the front of the line, a manager started waving his arms and shouting, “No more gas!”

Sears said…since her house flooded she and her family have been camping at her sister’s house in Orange, N.J. Nine people are in the house, including a baby, and Sears is eager to return to her own home. But her first priority is to get gas.

“There are people who are buying gas and selling it for $8 a gallon,” she said. “Maybe I can buy some from them.”

The entrepreneurs selling gas at illegal mark-ups might affect Sears in a manner the government’s price controls won’t. By helping her.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Proposes Decriminalization of Marijuana in Public

Yesterday’s New York Times reports that Governor Cuomo will be asking the state legislature to change state law in a way that will sharply reduce the number of people who are arrested in that state each year for marijuana offenses.

Some background–Thousands and thousands of young males in New York City are stopped and frisked by the police each year.  A remarkable number of those stops are illegal at the outset because there was no real reason for the person to be briefly detained.  But once the involuntary encounter begins, an officer might direct the person to “empty your pockets!”  If the stopped person brings out a plastic bag of marijuana, he gets busted for “possession of marijuana in public.”  So the government that does a lousy job with the school system has been making matters worse by giving thousands and thousands of minority males a criminal record, making it even harder for them to establish themselves in the mainstream economy.

Drug warriors like to say “we’re not locking up marijuana users–that’s a myth.”  Some truth in that because there is no longer any room in the prison system.  Most of the marijuana prisoners are involved with the black market trade in some capacity.  Still, tens of thousands of  users do get busted and go thru the system.

 Officials in the Cuomo administration said the marijuana-possession arrests were problematic in part because they subjected New Yorkers, many of them young, to the process of being booked, retaining a lawyer and carrying the stigma of having been arrested. And they argued that the arrests were harming the relationship between the police and young people.

According to Harry Levine of Queens College, there were 400,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City between 2002 and 2011.  Prof. Levine presented some of his research findings at a Cato drug policy conference last year.

Mayor Bloomberg’s aggressive stop and frisk policy in New York City is an on-going scandal.  Governor Cuomo deserves credit for this move to scale it back.

How Gov. Cuomo Can Fix New York’s Budget Mess

New York’s budget problem is actually a Medicaid problem.  In Sunday’s New York Post, I offer advice to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) on how to fix a budget gap that will grow to $17 billion during his term:

Gov. Cuomo can’t fix Medicaid by himself. He needs the help of Congress.

There is a solution…

Block grants are how President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress reformed welfare back in 1996, to spectacular success. Welfare reform forced New York to be smarter about welfare spending, just as a block grant would force New York to rededicate Medicaid to its original mission — providing necessary medical care to the truly needy.

There’s one place Gov. Cuomo can start on his own: Close the loopholes that allow well-to-do New Yorkers to feign poverty on paper so that Medicaid underwrites their long-term care. Medicaid exists for the poor, not to help well-off baby boomers protect their inheritance.

Steve Moses of the non-partisan Center for Long-Term Care Reform recommends that Cuomo take steps to ensure that New Yorkers with means pay for their own long-term care. These include reducing New York’s home-equity exemption from $750,000 to $500,000 (and seeking a federal waiver to reduce it to $0), expanding the use of liens and estate recovery and ending the abusive practice of “spousal refusal.”

Reducing Medicaid abuse won’t be easy. But Cuomo doesn’t have much choice.

In fact, what he has is an opportunity to become the leading national spokesperson for block grants, the quickest and easiest course to relief for states toiling under the unsustainable yoke of Medicaid spending.

For more on Medicaid reform, click here.  For more on abuse of Medicaid’s long-term care subsidies, click here.

Andrew Cuomo and the Gunmaker Litigation

There are many reasons to be glum about the impending coronation of dynastic heir Andrew Cuomo, now leading in the New York governor’s race against a GOP opponent (Carl Paladino) who at first polled decently but has since stumbled. Some fret about the Democrat’s reputation for political hardball: former governor Eliot Spitzer (Eliot Spitzer!) last month called Cuomo the “dirtiest, nastiest political player out there,” which is like being called overdressed by Lady Gaga. Others find Cuomo too much of a camera-chaser as attorney general in Albany, and almost everyone is queasy over his role (as Clinton-era housing secretary) in encouraging risk-taking by federally backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leading by direct steps to today’s ongoing mortgage crisis. (For background, see Wayne Barrett’s famous 2008 Village Voice article.)

I have a different reason for cringing at the idea that voters would ever elevate Andrew Cuomo to higher office, and it’s also based on memories of his tenure as housing secretary. Not the Fannie-Freddie-subprime end of it, although I concede that in a strictly economic sense those were the most damaging things he did. No, what I find permanently hard to forgive is the way Cuomo threw himself into the role of chief national cheerleader for the municipal anti-gun litigation of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Because that litigation mostly fizzled out, it is now only half remembered and doesn’t much feature in Cuomo profiles. At the time, though, it was a close-fought battle and a big story. More than 30 cities and counties sued firearms makers, alleging that courts should hold them financially responsible for the costs of urban shootings. The cry was to make guns the “next tobacco,” following the successful litigation campaign against tobacco companies that extracted hundreds of billions of dollars for the benefit of state coffers (and private lawyers).

Of course there are enormous differences between the tobacco and gun businesses. One is that while major tobacco makers had billion-dollar revenue streams to share as part of a settlement, most gunmakers are smallish enterprises, often family-owned. And this in fact was a conscious element of the strategy for the lawyers who promoted the suits: because gunmakers were too thinly capitalized to withstand the costs of years of legal defense, it was thought they’d fold their hands and yield to “gun control through litigation” (explicitly couched as an end run against a then-Republican Congress resistant to gun control proposals). Smith and Wesson actually did yield to a settlement on this rationale, which soon collapsed following a public outcry from gun owners and others outraged by the use of extortive litigation to achieve gun control objectives. The gamble having failed, the suits eventually reached judges and were generally thrown out, but not before imposing huge and uncompensated costs on many small companies that had violated no laws. Some were bankrupted.

Mindful of traditional tenets of legal ethics that forbid lawyers from using the cost of legal process as a bludgeon, most backers of the suits prudently refrained from any hint that imposing unsustainable legal costs was part of the plan. One exception was Cuomo, who warned gunmakers that unless they cooperated, they’d suffer “death by a thousand cuts.” And another was then-New-York-AG Spitzer, who reportedly warned an executive of holdout Glock: “If you do not sign, your bankruptcy lawyers will be knocking at your door.”

I think Spitzer and Cuomo deserve each other, really. What I can’t figure out is why the good citizens of New York would want either of them.