January 18, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
Albany, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo sent mixed message on labor issues in the six separate State of the State addresses he delivered last week.
He proposed a massive infrastructure program that would likely create thousands of union construction jobs, but also insisted that the state legalize app-based taxi services such as Uber and Lyft outside New York City, which would likely undercut cab drivers’ incomes and worker protections.
In six separate speeches, the governor presented himself as an economic and social “progressive” but a fiscal conservative, someone who’d pushed through a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the legalization of same-sex marriage while cutting taxes and reducing the growth of state spending to the lowest rate in more than 50 years. All six—in Manhattan and Buffalo Jan. 9, on Long Island and in Westchester County Jan. 10, and Syracuse and Albany Jan. 11—used the same basic language and structure, but with local references added, from improving Long Island’s water infrastructure to upgrading Syracuse’s airport, where “the main entrance doesn’t communicate to travelers that they have arrived to a growing and vibrant regional economy.”
Cuomo’s central proposal was what he called the “Middle Class Recovery Act,” which he posited as an antidote to the anger of Donald Trump supporters. “Most pervasive, our middle class is hurting and angry at their lack of progress. In terms of real wages, the earning potential of working families is less than it was 20 years ago,” he said in Manhattan. “Our middle class feels abused. They were collateral damage in the economic shift from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy. And they feel that their government did nothing to help.”
The program, Cuomo said, “has three components: jobs and infrastructure; access to education; and lower taxes.”
“We’re investing $100 billion in infrastructure all across the state,” he said at the state university campus in Purchase Jan. 10. “10,000 miles of roads, 2,600 bridges, because the infrastructure are the arteries and the veins of the economy.” The projects on the list include the proposed $10 billion upgrading of John F. Kennedy Airport, extending Buffalo’s light-rail line, building an additional track on Long Island Railroad lines, and for $388 million, connecting more than 10,000 homes in Suffolk County to sewage systems.
In Syracuse, to an audience that included state AFL-CIO head Mario Cilento, the governor also pledged to “enact a Buy America proposal, giving preference to American-made products in all state procurements over $100,000.” The United Steelworkers praised that idea, saying it “would create the strongest mandate for the purchase of American-made goods by State entities in the United States.”
Cuomo also linked his proposal to give free tuition to public-university students who qualify to jobs. “Everyone should have a college education,” he said in Buffalo. Manufacturing jobs are coming back, he said, because corporations moved overseas because they wanted cheap labor got uneducated labor. “Everything is about advanced manufacturing, and advanced manufacturing is not manufacturing the way it was. It’s manufacturing with the mind,” he continued. At General Motors’ new engine plant in Tonawanda, “it’s all automation, and somebody at a computer terminal who is moving the automation.”
In all his speeches outside New York City, he used similar futuristic rhetoric to insist that the legislature legalize app-based taxi services on Long Island and upstate. “To grow more jobs, we’re embracing the innovation economy, and ride-sharing is part of the innovation economy,” he said in Albany. “You tell your state legislators pass ridesharing or don’t come home. Don’t come home unless you’re in an Uber or a Lyft car.” Drivers’ unions have challenged the app-based taxi business model for classifying them as independent contractors who don’t have to be paid minimum wage or overtime and aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.
Cuomo also pledged to lower taxes, particularly local property taxes. He implied that consolidating purchasing by local governments would enable that. He also promised to double the tax credit for child care. The New York State United Teachers called that “a step in the right direction that would tangibly help teachers, nurses and others who work in our public schools and colleges, as well as tens of thousands of other working families.”
However, state Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said it is “doubtful” that many of Cuomo’s proposals will make it through the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Democrats, she wrote in a message to constituents Jan. 13, have already introduced similar legislation, including the child-care tax credit and free tuition for qualifying public-university students, but were “blocked by the Senate Republicans.” Because Cuomo refused to intervene when several of the Senate’s 32 Democrats split off and joined with the 31-member GOP minority to ensure it retained control, she said, “now these proposals are unlikely to pass.”