March 27, 2020
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo is a Guest on WAMC Northeast Public Radio With Alan Chartock

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo is a Guest on WAMC Northeast Public Radio With Alan Chartock

Governor Cuomo: "Every day, it weighs on me that police officers are going out there, nurses are going out there, first responders. I was with the National Guard today. I called up these people, I brought them out of their home, I brought them into harm's way, I did that, it was in the best interest of the state but I did that and I said to them what I've said to the National Guard by the way in every circumstance. I will never ask you to do anything that I won't do myself and I'll never ask you to go anywhere that I won't go myself."

Governor Cuomo: "It's public service. It's public duty. It's community spirit. It's we have to keep the place running. The lights have to be on. The food has to be in the grocery store. We need hand sanitizer and people sacrifice themselves and take risks."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on WAMC Northeast Public Radio with Alan Chartock.

AUDIO is available here.

A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:

Governor Cuomo: Good afternoon.

Alan Chartock: And thank you so much, Jim Margolis, for turning over this time to us. So we have a standing invitation out to the governor to come on anytime he thinks there's something to be said, so governor, thanks for being with us, we're very flattered.

Governor Cuomo: Thanks for having me, Alan.

Alan Chartock: Let me start by asking you about the news of the day. President Trump has tweeted recently that just before noon today, he said, thousands of federal government delivered ventilators found in New York storage. New York must distribute now! What's the president talking about?

Governor Cuomo: I don't know. There was a report on Fox last night to that effect. Thousands of ventilators sent and not deployed, they're in a stockpile in New York City. And if I had to guess, I would say that that's where the president got it from. It was a really ignorant point. We are putting together a stockpile, stockpile. Stockpile by definition is you're putting together equipment for when you need to deploy it. We have about, healthcare capacity now of about 50,000 beds. Not all 50,000 beds are filled. We're threatened with going to 140,000 beds at the apex of the coronavirus. We have to be prepared for the 140,000. We're fine where we are right now with equipment in terms of ventilators for the 50,000 beds. The problem is if we go to 140,000. And that's why we're putting together the stockpile and that's why we need the 30,000 ventilators. You don't deploy from a stockpile unless and until you need it. That's the definition of a stockpile. So, it's a sort of sensational but ignorant point, and you know, the president's tweet, if he got it from Fox, you know the old expression, garbage in, garbage out. That's what I would say about that, Alan.

Alan Chartock: You used the ignorant word, the I word. Is he truly ignorant, or is this malicious?

Governor Cuomo: Well, I said the piece on Fox was ignorant. Ignorant as in devoid of fact, it's just not informed, it's not factual, it's not intelligent. It's ignorant of the fact. It's ignoring the fact. We're putting together a stockpile. Look at the word. We're putting together a stockpile. We don't need any of this equipment today. We don't need the ventilators today. We don't need any of the equipment today. Right now, the capacity is going up. I'm sorry, the number of cases are going up, but we're not over capacity today. The apex would bring us double capacity. That's the problem. So to say well, they're not using it now. I mean, I get it's a nice, sensational point, and it sounds like it means something, because people would assume you're requesting equipment for today.

But that's not what this is. We're not requesting equipment for today. Some cases we are. PPE, the gowns, the masks, et cetera, we only have a very short supply of that. Literally, one week, two weeks or so. You have some hospitals saying that they only have a couple of days supply on the PPE. But the ventilators, 30,000 ventilators, that's, that's not until the apex, which we estimate to be 21 days. The president also said he doesn't think we'll need 30,000 ventilators. And I hope he's right. I hope we don't need any ventilators. I hope this virus goes away tomorrow. I hope some weather change that just kills it.

But, I can't operate on a hunch. I have to operate on data and facts and science. We have McKinsey & Company, we have the Weill-Cornell medical institute. I talked to Dr. Fauci, I talked to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health. We have a mathematical projection of the caseload increase, based on China and South Korea, and Italy, and the numbers in New York State, and that's where we get our projections. And I have to prepare for that projection. That projection goes to a need of 30,000 ventilators. So I wish it weren't true, and I'm an optimist so I'm hoping we don't need that many. But as a government official, as the Governor, I have to operate on data, I can't operate on my gut instinct about a coronavirus, which by the way, nobody knows anything about the coronavirus. So, that's why I make the assumptions I make based on the projections and the data we have.

Alan Chartock: Do you get furious, I mean personally angry, when the President pulls a move like this and doesn't think about it and just thinks he's going to get away with it. Doesn't it anger you personally?

Governor Cuomo: You know, if it angered one, one would have a serious ulcer by now, right? The President and his Tweets, this has been from day one. You know, they tend to be emotional, they tend to be provocative. I don't think anyone really takes them factually, they're often not correct, they're not based on fact. So I don't know that anyone really takes them as informational, factual Tweets or transfers of knowledge, it's just what he does.

Alan Chartock: But why does he do it? I'm assuming it's political, I'm assuming from where I'm sitting, you're getting all this credit for handling yourself so well and all the factual material you're putting out there, and he's not doing that, he lies. So, if that's the case, maybe this is just, you're not me, I'm getting even with you.

Governor Cuomo: You know, maybe. But who knows, who knows. Maybe coincidental, but today the President also blasted General Motors for being slow on the production of ventilators.

Alan Chartock: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that.

Governor Cuomo: Yeah and that's curious because when the President acknowledged the need for ventilators their strategy was to go to companies that volunteered to help create them.

Alan Chartock: As opposed to?

Governor Cuomo: As opposed to the Defense Production Act when you mandated that they be produced. And the interesting thing, GM was at the top of the list of the companies that were going ventilators. The President basically, really took them to task for being slow today and then also today said, "I don't think New York needs 30,000," and repeated the Fox point that they're not being used. I don't know, maybe they're connected or maybe they're all random thoughts, I don't know. But, my relationship right now with the federal government is not a political relationship, it's a fundamental, Constitutional, operational relationship. And we need the federal government, I asked the federal government today for an additional four temporary hospitals to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers and that's another 1,000 beds that we would have to the count. That's important. So I'm trying to keep politics, emotion out of this and just function as a good partner, cooperative partner in a state-federal relationship, which is where we are now. Look, if the government relationship ever had to work, it has to work now.

Alan Chartock: You were supposed to talk to the President, I understand, today about that, about these additional emergency hospitals. Did you have that conversation?

Governor Cuomo: Not yet, but I will contact him today. I spoke to him a couple of times yesterday.

Alan Chartock: Really? How does that work? How do you get through to the President of the United States? Do you say, "This is Andrew Cuomo on the phone," and he picks up or do you have to go through a lot of red tape to get to him?

Governor Cuomo: Not so much. I call his assistant and sometimes he's available. Sometimes he calls back, but he's always been, he's always made himself available. It's never been that I can't get him and that's been remarkable. I'll tell you the truth, he has a very busy schedule and he's remarkably good at returning my phone calls, that I can tell you. He's highly respectful of that relationship.

Alan Chartock: Vermont has already cancelled the rest of the school year. How likely is it that it'll come back at all in New York?

Governor Cuomo: Well, I'm doing it in two-week tranches. Just because we really don't know what we're dealing with. I cancelled it for two weeks today. I renewed it for another two weeks, Alan. If the numbers don't change in two weeks dramatically, then we would cancel it for another two weeks, but there may come a point in time where you just say, forget it, the numbers aren't changing and the two intervals are no longer rationalized, so just make a decision. But I still want to do two weeks by two weeks because who does know, right? We really don't know what we're dealing with. We have all this past data and trajectories, but maybe God intervenes and does something special for us. And I don't want to say now it's cancelled the rest of the year and all the school districts unwind and the teachers make plans and then have to go back. You can't start the engine once you turn it off.

Alan Chartock: You made a little news talking to us and to others, you said we were going to have to slash education funding. Slash may be too profound a word in the budget, but it's going to cost money. You'll have to come up with that money to balance the budget from somewhere. So, do you mean by that specifically?

Governor Cuomo: What the federal government did, we were waiting. There was one variable before we close the state budget. Which was, what was the federal government going to do in its relief bill? And we found that out when they did their two trillion-dollar plan. And their two trillion-dollar plan has unemployment insurance, and a lot of goodies, small businesses, money for hospitals, money for local governments, a lot of good things in there. But they didn't give any money to state governments and they didn't give money to local governments for non-corona virus issues. So, they gave New York State five billion dollars to use on the corona virus. That totally disregards the point that we have 10 to 15-billion-dollar gap in the budget because revenues just stopped and the federal government postponed the tax filings until June. So, by definition we won't even collect any money until June and in June the receipts will be way done. So, we have a 10 to 15-billion-dollar hole. We have to do a budget in three days. They give us zero for the state budget.

Alan Chartock: So, what are you doing?

Governor Cuomo: Well, there's no option. I said kiddingly to a legislator before, I said, "This is the easiest budget we've done. There's no option. The number is zero. We have no money." So, where do we spend money? It's education. And we don't have money to fund education, certainly at any increased level that we discussed in my initial budget projection. We'll have healthcare money, because they do give five billion dollars to fight corona virus. And the corona virus money I would assume is fairly fungible since everything is corona virus now from a hospital's point of view and they gave hospitals additional funding. When you give a state no relief, then, and you know the state government is looking at 10 to 15 billion dollar whole, they in essence cut education funding. Which is what they did.

Alan Chartock: What are you going to do about that? Where do the school districts get that money, how do they deal with it? They have budgets, they have teachers' salaries that negotiated increases. What do they do?

Governor Cuomo: What we're looking at now is the federal bill does fund school districts. They sort of by-passed local government and funded the needs that they wanted to fund with their federal bill. So we're looking at how much they funded school districts to see how far that will go. We're looking to see how much they funded hospitals to see where that will go. But when they gave nothing to the state, that was it. Also, by the way, this state once again gets clobbered by the federal government. We get - the $5 billion we get for the coronavirus, that's 1.9 percent of our budget, okay? Of our overall budget. We have more coronavirus cases than any state in the United States. They give states out west 10 percent of their budget, 17 percent of their budget, 19 percent of their budget. And they have like four coronavirus cases.

Alan Chartock: So it's pork barrel as usual with those guys. Let me ask you something - we've been getting some calls. Some leaders from upstate New York are calling on you to establish a travel ban on people coming from the New York City area or to establish in order to require them to self-quarantine for 14 days. I don't like it, but I'm not the governor, you are. Would you issue such a ban?

Governor Cuomo: No. I don't like it. I don't like it socially or culturally. I don't like what it says about us as one state, one family. Also I don't believe it's medically justified. Our Health Commissioner Howard Zucker doesn't recommend it.

Alan Chartock: It does seem that when people get into this kind of mess, some people get angry and then you start seeing lines at gun shops to buy even more guns, and then you start thinking about all the domestic politics of people being cooped up together and people having domestic fights. It's very worrisome to me.

Governor Cuomo: Oh, no - this is perilous ground, Alan. This is perilous ground. You're exactly right. You can see how these fabric of society quickly frays. People are under stress. People are frightened I think, first of all, the fear turns into an anger. The possible chaos, "Let me get a gun, let me buy ammo." These shops are overwhelmed apparently. Isolation itself is something, right? If you're isolated alone - people are isolated now, right? My daughter was in isolation. You spend 14 days alone in a home. That's emotionally very stressful. You spend 14 days in a house with kids and your partner - that can be stressful on a much different level. The fear on top of it. You're out of control. Any controlling personality, "How do you deal with this? I can't touch a doorknob, I'm afraid of another human being." It's so difficult on so many levels and so destructive on so many levels.

Alan Chartock: Governor, I only have two minutes of your very valuable time, and I do appreciate you're being with us, but I wanted to ask you something. Senator Schumer did this package that we're looking at now, which you've been somewhat critical of or about. I'm wondering how you and Schumer are getting along, have you talked? He is after all the leader of the Democrats in the Senate.

Governor Cuomo: Yeah no we've talked about it - this state, not only did it take a beating in this bill, but the previous bill that had $6 billion for New York State allocated in Medicaid money, we don't even qualify for because they put in a provision in the bill that you can't make any changes to your Medicaid program, and we're in the middle of MRT, which started back in January and has nothing to do with this bill, the Medicaid Redesign Team. The MRT is finished and I said to all of the congressional delegation, you know we're not even going to get the $6 billion, what they call Medicaid money, from the previous piece of legislation because we redesigned Medicaid to make it more efficient. And it was an MRT that was passed by the Assembly and the Senate, headed by Michael Dowling, Northwell, and Dennis Rivera, former head of 1199. They said, the only excuse I heard, was well unions didn't like it. First of all, what unions did not like it? Dennis Rivera is from 1199. That is the hospital union.

Alan Chartock: Yes.

Governor Cuomo: And, what is that? That's all-time politics. Unions didn't like it, somebody didn't like it, so you just didn't give $6 billion to New York. And the second bill, where we did get no money for the state government. And then you watch, when we cut education funding they are going to say "oh, the State cut education funding." The State, baloney. You don't like your education budget? Go call your federal representative.

Alan Chartock: So, we're out of time. I hate this because I really wanted to talk to you for a while longer. I really do but I was told to cut it off at 3:50.

Governor Cuomo: Well, I am not going anywhere unless you are in a rush.

Alan Chartock: No, I am not. I would like to ask you the next question then if you have a couple seconds.

Governor Cuomo: Go ahead.

Alan Chartock: So, how do you get your job? I mean you have got to figure out not only what you want to spend in the budget, and you have come up with a plan that you can adjust the budget as you go. The legislature clearly may have some problems with that. How do you deal with that?

Governor Cuomo: I don't know if they have any problems with it because I do not know what the alternative is. We are going to have to adjust down the initial - The legislature was waiting for this federal bill. And they all assumed the federal bill would have an amount of funding for the state government. So, that is why we are all sitting here waiting. So, everybody is shocked. I don't know what alternative we have. We have to revise down the initial projection because we just don't have the money. And then well maybe the economy will come back, maybe it's a couple months, maybe it's six months, maybe the federal government will actually act responsibly and pass a bill that helps the state. So, what we are thinking is we revise down the initial projection and then we do basically a quarterly update that reflects the actual finances.

Alan Chartock: Well is that in a day? Is that you? Does the legislature get to participate in these decisions? Because the way I read it, maybe the newspapers were not quite right on this, that you wanted that power for yourself as opposed to sharing it with the legislature. What's up?

Governor Cuomo: No, I'm saying what I'm talking about is make it a pure mathematical formula. We do the initial budget. We do the reductions and then we say this is what you will get. You will get $100 if we have $100 and then we will tell you mathematically how much money we have versus that $100 every quarter. So, it is like local government can look at the bank statement and you will know exactly what we get and what we are paying out.

Alan Chartock: But how do you plan for that? In other words, you make a budget and the schools go out and say "okay, this is what we have to spend." And all of a sudden you hear from the legislature and the Governor it is going to be less.

Governor Cuomo: Well, at first, you do not plan until we pass the budget. That is the only good news. They did not have anything to plan against. They had my projected number, but they know my projected number is just my projected number. They don't get a number until the budget comes out. So, the budget projection will be a number for them to plan against. They will then have to deal with a certain level of uncertainty which I also have to deal with. Here is the number. I can tell you this is going to be the number today. I can't tell you if it is going to be more, but here are quarterly updates that you are going to get. So, you will know what I know when I know it.

Alan Chartock: Now, the leaders of both houses Governor, have you spoken to them about this plan? Are they on board or are they balking?

Governor Cuomo: Well, it's never been here before but I don't know what our option is. I don't know what our finances are going forward. They don't know what our finances are going forward. We do know the hole we're in on day one so I think it's the most honest way to do this. Here is the initial projection and then if the money comes in we'll give it to you. If the money doesn't come in we're not going to be able to give it to you.

Alan Chartock: Now you've always been proud of the fact that you've been able to pass these budgets on time. Doesn't look good this year, right? Am I wrong?

Governor Cuomo: Well, there is an incentive for everyone to do it because it is professionalism. It is one of the indicators of pay increases. It is one of the indicators of a successful legislative session. They can do it on time. I mean there's not a lot of good news in it but again there's not a lot to argue about. There is no money to spend. You can't spend a lot of time Alan arguing about how to spend it.

Alan Chartock: I'm sure that the teachers unions and the others are going to land on these, your legislative colleagues, and say, hey, help, help, help. There may be a tendency to make you into the bad guy.

Governor Cuomo: Then fine. Let the Legislature say, okay, here is my alternative. I can turn loaves and fishes, you know. I can make them multiply. Look, every interest group, every lobbyist gets paid to say one word which is 'more'. I need more. It is really hard in this environment to come forward and say, the economy is crashing down but I should be held harmless from all of reality. I'm sure some of them will not have a problem doing it but it really is on the edge of ridiculousness.

Alan Chartock: Are you watching your own health, Governor? We see Brian Miller has tested positive, the fourth member of the State Legislature, Assemblyman Brian Miller. Obviously a lot of us aren't going out of our houses. I'm one of them. But every time I turn on the TV or see you you're with other people. Are you cognizant of the fact that you could get sick?

Governor Cuomo: Yes. But I'm also cognizant of the fact that I have a job to do now, Alan, and I don't have that luxury frankly of just worrying about my own health and every day, every day, it weighs on me that police officers are going out there, nurses are going out there, first responders. I was with the National Guard today. I called up these people, I brought them out of their home, I brought them into harm's way, I did that, it was in the best interest of the state but I did that and I said to them what I've said to the National Guard by the way in every circumstance. I will never ask you to do anything that I won't do myself and I'll never ask you to go anywhere that I won't go myself.

Alan Chartock: Should we be doing more? I got a letter from a lady today, her son picks up the materials for the prisons where they're manufacturing and has to deliver it and she's scared because they have no masks, they have nothing to wear and she said, will you call you friend the Governor and see what he can do? You must get this every minute.

Governor Cuomo: Yeah, I get it every minute. I get it every minute and there's never enough that you can do because what they're really saying is why should my friend, my brother, my son, be in a place of danger? And there's no good answer to that, Alan. It's public service. It's public duty. It's community spirit. It's we have to keep the place running. The lights have to be on. The food has to be in the grocery store. We need hand sanitizer and people sacrifice themselves and take risks. And so yeah, I'm not going to sit at home and say everybody else I'm going to call the National Guard and I'm going to just protect myself. I'm not build that way. I can't do it. I can't do it in good conscience. That's not what this job is. I don't believe that's what this job is and if that's what it takes I'm not willing to do it. I'll tell you God's honest truth. I spoke to Dr. Zucker. He makes the same point that you make. You're in these situations. You expose yourself and I'm asking thousands of people to do that every day. I'm not going to do it myself. I can't do it.

Alan Chartock: Governor, thank you so much. I can't tell you how we appreciate the fact that you're honoring us by talking to us and telling us what you're thinking and feeling and I very much appreciate it. That's a personal remark and anybody who doesn't like it, tough noogies. That's the way I feel about it and thank you so much for being with us.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you. I love that - tough noogies. I'm haven't heard that in a while. I'm going to use that. Thank you, Alan.

Alan Chartock: Okay.

Governor Cuomo: Thanks. Bye.

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