Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on The Cats Roundtable with John Catsimatidis.
AUDIO of the Governor’s interview is available here.
A rush transcript of the interview is available below.
John Catsimatidis: He’s been rumored, he’s been rumored that he wants to run for President in 2020. Good morning Governor Andrew Cuomo. How are you this morning?
Governor Cuomo: Good morning. Happy New Year to you, John. I’m doing just great. Thank you.
John Catsimatidis: So, what do you say about the rumor?
Governor Cuomo: I’m running for re-election as Governor in 2018. I hope that I am blessed by the people of this state with a chance to continue to serve. We have a lot of good things going on right now and I want to make sure that we finish what we started. So, that’s the only plan that I have now, but the rumor is flattering, even if not true, John.
John Catsimatidis: Well, last week you had six different State of the State messages. Now, why did you have six?
Governor Cuomo: Well, the State of the State is, by law, is a message to the legislature. For most years in our state’s history, it was a written document that was given to the legislature from the Governor and it was basically a memorandum on what the Governor wanted to get done that year. Governor Al Smith made it into a speech in the Assembly Chamber because he was a former Assemblyman and he wanted to make the speech in the Chamber. So, basically the State of the State is a vehicle to communicate a vision and it’s up to the Governor to come up with a time appropriate fashion. I changed it when I became Governor. I took it from the Assembly Chamber and I moved it to the Albany Convention Center because I wanted to make the statement that we were – government’s obligation was to talk to people. I took it one step further this year because I believe John, there is an unprecedented citizen anger, frustration, anxiety. That’s what we talked about and we saw in the election for the President – people are really distrustful of government and I wanted to say to them this year, “I’m coming to you. I’m bringing government to you. I’m not going to sit in Albany and talk to the politicians and expect that you’re going to go to Albany or you’re going to figure out how to find out about what government is doing. I’m going to come to you. I’m going explain our vision and what it means for you in your region.” You know, we’re one state John, but New York City, we have one agenda and in Buffalo we have another agenda. So, the six speeches were basically representative of different regions of the state and my message was, “I’m reaching out to people in an unprecedented way.” And to the extent, “Well, you have to do it six times – that must be a pain in the neck” – yes, that’s exactly my point. We have to work harder to bring government to the people and bring the message to the people.
John Catsimatidis: Some people have been referring to you as a ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the state, but also ‘Builder-in-Chief.’ You’ve been looking at projects, building things all over the place.
Governor Cuomo: Well John, we lost decades, not just this state, this country. You know we built this country. New York is New York because we built the state. It’s not natural evolution. You look around New York, it’s the buildings, it’s the subway system, it’s the bridges. We built it and then somewhere along the way, we lost our ambition. Here in the New York City area, where you are, we haven’t built anything big since the Verrazano Bridge, was the last time and that was the late ‘50’s. So, the other areas, other countries, other states have passed us by. You fly into any airport, internationally, and then you fly into LaGuardia or JFK and the difference is frightening. LaGuardia is disgusting. JFK is chaotic. So, we have a lot of time to make up for and we have a very aggressive – the most aggressive building program that the state has ever launched and we’re going to build a new LaGuardia and a new JFK, expanding Javits Center, the convention center by one million square feet because it’s no longer competitive. We are redoing, John, all of the bridges and tunnels. You’ll notice, Queens-Midtown tunnel, Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Triborough. All the entrance ways, we’re going to have all electronic tolling now. We’re doing airports all across the state because if you want to remain the Empire State, you want to remain competitive, you can’t just sit there. People will pass you by. You have to develop and renew and you’re infrastructure, your transportation, are the veins and arteries of the economic system. So, we’re doing it aggressively and we’re doing it successfully. We opened the Second Avenue Subway after 100 years.
John Catsimatidis: Congratulations. Congratulations on the Second Avenue Subway. You must wear a size 13 shoe. You put your foot down, and you got it done.
Governor Cuomo: I actually wear a 12.5, but close, close. Well, look it’s like anything else right? You’re in business. You want to get it done. Somebody’s got to manage the process. It’s doubly hard for a bureaucracy. You know, bureaucracy is risk adverse. Nobody wants to make a decision. If you don’t push and if you don’t hand-carry a project through the bureaucracy, it never happens, and it was very important to me to get the Second Avenue Subway done on time. All you hear is delays and moving deadlines. The MTA said December, January 2017 and we wanted to get it done on that date. I wanted to show the people that government can actually perform. I want to show them that there’s a reason to support all of these development projects that we’re doing.
John Catsimatidis: And I noticed that the MTA Chairman is no longer there.
Governor Cuomo: The MTA Chairman, Tom Prendergast, actually stayed on the job longer than he anticipated. I asked him on a personal level to stay and let’s finish the Second Avenue Subway and he did. He has been extraordinary. We’re going to miss him very, very much. He’s a great guy, Tom Prendergast. He’s become a good personal friend. That is one of the tough jobs in the world, the MTA, because it is every day John. There’s something happening every day with the MTA and it is just exhausting.
John Catsimatidis: Now, on your State of the State, the legislature is very upset that they’re not getting a pay raise. Is one still possible at this point?
Governor Cuomo: Well, they’re upset because they’re not getting a pay raise. I was open to a pay raise. I am open to a pay raise. The pay raise is not just for the legislature, it’s also for my commissioners. The legislature hasn’t had a raise since 1999. Their salary $79,000, is the base salary. That sounds like a lot of money, but as you know John, especially in the New York City area, it’s very hard to raise a family on $79,000. These are effectively full-time jobs. I need higher salaries for my commissioners. Some of them get paid $120 - $130,000 to run multi-billion dollar agencies. The problem with the pay raise, at the end of the day – and I was open to it – but the fundamental problem is it was not popular. The Assembly could pass it and we tried to get it done in December, I worked very hard. The Assembly could pass it. I don’t believe the Senate could pass a pay raise, because it was unpopular. The next time to get it done actually is going to be as a practical matter -- Or first, they could pass a pay raise tomorrow, right? It can’t take effect until the next legislature, but they can vote for it tomorrow, and as I said, I’m open to it. I doubt they’ll vote for it now because it’s not popular, but the next practical window is probably December of 2018. I will be the Governor in December of 2018. Whatever happens, win, lose or draw. I would be supportive of a pay raise at that time. I think we have to address the concerns of the public. I think we have to do our job. We have to pass two budgets, and pass them on time which is what we have been doing because people expect performance. I hope we can have two years without any scandals. We’ve had more than our share of knuckleheads here. We’ve had scandals in the Comptroller’s office, in the Legislature, in the Executive, my own branch of government. So, hopefully we have two years we perform, get the budget done on time, we make the reforms we need, and we don’t have any systemic scandals. You know, you have a couple of hundred people, thousands of state employees, you’re always going to find people who do stupid venial things, but I’m sure we are not going to repeat what we’ve gone through in the past couple of years. I think the mood will be different and New Yorkers pay for performance. In December 2018, I’ll be there. I’m open to it, I’m supportive of it. I was now on a very personal level for my commissioners, I need to get them a raise or otherwise I can’t attract quality to state service. And, by the way, the same is true for the legislature. If you want to attract quality people to run, you have to pay them, John.
John Catsimatidis: Friday morning, Senator Majority Leader Flanagan criticized you on the Regional Economic Development process. What is that all about.
Governor Cuomo: Well, that must mean he is running for Governor if he is criticizing me. It didn’t take him long. The way I heard it, and I wasn’t there, but we changed the way we did government economic development grants. We set up what we call Regional Economic Development Councils where we get businessmen and academics to come up with a business plan for the region and then the state funds the best business plans. The legislators feel that this cuts them out of the process and they want to be the ones to determine where the money goes in their district and I think the Senator’s point was - the way it was reported to me was – if that is pork barrel, then I’m in favor of pork barrel. I’m not in favor of pork barrel. Pork barrel spending is waste, it’s political spending, people have gotten into a lot of trouble. The funding is to create jobs and to have a business plan that you are executing and that’s what these regional councils do. Now, I‘ve tried to get the legislators to be part of the regional councils, but if I have to choose between funding a business plan and funding political pork, I’m going to fund a business plan, John.
John Catsimatidis: Governor, we have time for one more question. What do you think is the most important thing you want to get through to people in the state?
Governor Cuomo: This year, it’s the message I started with the State of the State. I know you’re angry, I know you’re disappointed and I know you’re frustrated. The middle class has taken a terrible beating. I am the middle class. I’m Queens, New York, as you know. You John, you come from the middle class. It’s a different psyche. The middle class always believed they were going to be able to do better and their kids were going to do better and they don’t believe that anymore.
John Catsimatidis: So that means jobs, infrastructure and lower taxes.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, jobs for you, lower taxes, and college affordability for your children, because the dream is your children do better than you and you need college to do that, and college is an impossibility for a lot of working families right now. And my key proposal this year is free tuition to a public college, anyone from a family up to $125,000. Because $125,000, John, you know when we were growing up that was all the money in the world. $125,000 is not that much when you’re raising a family and college tuition is $20-$30-$40,000. So, that’s the key proposal. Lower taxes, which we proposed, more jobs, infrastructure, et cetera, and economic development and college affordability for your children.
John Catsimatidis: Governor, thank you for coming on with us this morning and I understand your message: jobs, infrastructure, lower taxes and I think you’re getting there and I want to congratulate you. We have some breaking news this morning.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, we do John, as you know, affordable housing is a crisis all across the state, especially in New York City. The homeless numbers are just astronomical and getting worse. The main affordable housing program that was authorized by the state is something called 421-a and it expired last year. And we have been trying to come up with a new program to replace it that the real estate developers and the unions could agree to, and we’ve designed that program. We’re going to send up a bill to the legislature today that lays out all the specifics, but it’s been signed off on by the real estate community and the labor unions. We call it “Affordable New York.” It will create about 2,500 units per year of affordable housing, about 9,000 units total, and it’s actually, in my opinion, a better program than the old 421-a. This has increased the length of affordability 40 years, and it’s actually made it more affordable for people to qualify. So, I’m urging the legislature today to not only sign the Affordable New York bill, but there is a $2 billion housing fund that the Senate has refused to release until we had this worked out, and we now have it worked out and I hope that $2 billion fund is released immediately because we need affordable housing. We need it now. We have record homeless numbers on the street, and the legislature has $2 billion locked up in the closet that they haven’t been willing to release. So, it’s good news all around. The new program is exciting, and getting the funding that has been held by the Senate released, will make a dramatic difference.
John Catsimatidis: That is wonderful news. That would be a great economic boom for New York City with real estate investors putting money back in.
Governor Cuomo: I’m excited about it, John. You know, we want to create affordable housing. It has to be economically viable for the real estate community, obviously, to do it, and it has to pay a fair wage. So much of what we’ve been talking about is helping the working man and woman, helping the middle class. This is the backbone of the workforce in the private sector in New York. So, it pays a fair wage. The construction unions have agreed, everybody has agreed, and it wasn’t easy, but it’s a smart program, everybody’s on board. Now, I want to get the money out the door so we can actually build the housing because that’s what it’s about and again, we’ll release the bill literally today will be at the legislature. And all I need is a signature and we can release $2 billion of funding.
John Catsimatidis: Well thank you, Governor. Thank you for talking to New Yorkers on a Sunday morning and waking up early. Thank you so much.
Governor Cuomo: My pleasure. Thanks, John