Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo is Guest on Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on WCNY's Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Susan Arbetter: Governor Cuomo joins me now to discuss the week that was. Governor Cuomo, welcome back to the show. How are you?
Governor Cuomo: I'm doing very well. A little tired, a little sleepy. I was walking around in subway tunnels last night. Nothing nefarious.
Susan Arbetter: I read that you were in the L train. I'm not somebody who's familiar with the subway, but a lot of people ride it. What did you see?
Governor Cuomo: Well first of all, there's nothing like walking through a subway tunnel at night in the dark. The L train is—
Susan Arbetter: It sounds really scary and unpleasant and wet and sort of creepy like a scary movie.
Governor Cuomo: Well I had the Dean of the Cornell engineering school and the Dean of the Columbia engineering school and they brought teams of experts, and we're walking through this tunnel and I've got a sense it was a new experience for them. And I said, by the way, if you see cats, they're not cats.
Susan Arbetter: Oh God, no they're not, are they? What are they? They're another kind of mammal.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, they are not cats. That opened their eyes. Anyway, the L train is an MTA project that has been going on for years and they have been tasked to determine the best and fastest way to repair a tunnel that goes under the East River, which is where the L train runs. And their plan that they came up with is 15 months to close the tunnel. The plan is supposed to start in four [months]. They've been refining it, but they say this is their best plan. It has New York City people very concerned, as you can understand. It will effect traffic, et cetera.
Susan Arbetter: And people who use the L train, this is to get to what? From Brooklyn to Manhattan and the other way around?
Governor Cuomo: This is basically from Brooklyn to Manhattan. But if you don't have the L train, then the City of New York has put together alternative bus plans, et cetera, so it's going to disrupt the whole city. And the MTA has said that this is the best and fastest and everybody has yelled at them for the past four years to do it the best and the fastest. New Yorkers are still skeptical as we can understand, and it's going to happen in four months now and they say they have their final plan. So I brought in literally the best people on the globe, Susan, who do just this. They're not aligned with government, so they don't have a bureaucratic perspective.
Susan Arbetter: These are the Cornell people?
Governor Cuomo: Cornell, Columbia, we have a consultant team that we put together. We have Sarah Feinberg, who is a formal federal rail administrator. And I said look, please review the plans. I just need to know that indeed, this is the best and the fastest because on the merits, it's going to be very disruptive, and personally, frankly, I just want to be able to look New Yorkers in the eyes and say, I know this is a pain in the neck, but I am telling you that we did our due diligence and there's no better way to do it. I don't want new Yorkers left with the feeling, well this is a pain and I bet you it didn't' happen, which—
Susan Arbetter: What do you mean, what didn't happen? That the due diligence didn't happen?
Governor Cuomo: No, that it could have been done differently, right? Because they're very skeptical about government work. So, I want to either be able to say, I did my due diligence. I checked, it's the best. Or, if you come up with a different idea—I mean, they're fascinating people. They're talking about how they're building tunnels in Europe and in China and the best technology in cables with different coatings. And they also come with a different perspective, Susan, because the MTA's perspective is: replace what is there, right? That's how a government agency approaches this. Replace what is there. Private sector people came at it with a different perspective, which is: how do I replace the function and they system? Not necessarily the physical architecture that is there. So it was an interesting conversation for me.
Susan Arbetter: So you're out of the tunnel.
Governor Cuomo: I'm out of the tunnel.
Susan Arbetter: And now you're in the light and we're going to talk about the pay raise commission. What do you think about the fallout over the commission? What do you make of all of this?
Governor Cuomo: The pay raise commission is what we knew it was going to be all along. The commission came back, offered a raise, which I think is a generous raise. I supported the raise for legislators. But it also banned outside income because it basically said, if you want a raise you're going to a full time legislature, that means a ban on outside income, which I believe had to be done anyway as a reform and it ended lulus. The legislators wanted the pay raise. The ban on outside income has caused issues and the removals of the lulus has caused issues. There's a group today that says they're going to sue.
Susan Arbetter: Yeah, they're going to be here in the press room in about 15 minutes, a group called the Government Justice Center. And they are a group that is led, I looked at their website, the staffers, rather the board, is from the Manhattan Institute, the Empire Center and Reclaim New York, along with former State Court of Appeal Judge Robert Smith. So, these are conservative folks. Do you think they have some sort of agenda?
Governor Cuomo: Yes. Yes, and yes and yes and yes. Thank you for saying that Susan. You know, one of the things that makes me nuts is when these media outlets will say, 'well the Americans for the American Way said today that the president did this.' Yes, the Americans for the American Way sounds like a great group, yeah. But the Americans for the American Way or you know, Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, they often have a very specific agenda.
Susan Arbetter: Well I think a lot of these groups, you know, on both the left and the right have an agenda these days, absolutely.
Governor Cuomo: It is the new genre. This group happens to be a very partisan conservative republican group, it's EJ McMahon, it's the Empire Group, it's all the ultraconservatives funded by Mercer, et cetera. The Republican Senators don't like the ban because they have more of the outside law firms. The Upstate Republicans are often aligned with a law firm. That is the problem that we're trying to solve with the banning of the outside income.
Susan Arbetter: I think the Assembly Democrats are not happy either, also in part because of the outside income. We're going to be talking to Assemblyman McDonald whose family has a pharmacy in just a few minutes. But, they're also unhappy about the lulu situation.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, the ban is more of a republican problem because they have more proportionately senators, the Assembly has some people who make outside income, but it's not as big a problem, Susan. They don't like losing the lulus, which is a way of control of the leadership. They're going up $50,000, right? They're going from $80,000 to $130,000. The median income in the State of New York is $60,000. I don't know how you justify that without reforms, which is basically the ban on the outside income. Now, the Assembly has fueled the lawsuit because you have Assembly people who are saying that it's unconstitutional or that it has gone too far.
Susan Arbetter: Well that's what this Government Justice Center is saying, that pretty much, that their litigation is challenging the legality of the Compensation Committee's report and recommendations.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, and I think what happened is the group that is doing this, Republican Senator Flanagan is against losing his members because of the ban, but they are now going to use the Assembly's statements against them and say, well the Assembly Members themselves say it's illegal. I believe the law is going to be upheld, but I believe the rhetoric has made the lawsuit more problematic. And if the lawsuit were successful, they would lose the raise and everything, and then they'd be right back to zero.
Susan Arbetter: This puts them in a pretty bad position. I mean, the whole issue here is that they, one of the reasons why people are sort of, you know, unhappy with politics is because of things like this pay raise commission that was put into a big budget bill at the end of the session. And it just said, you know, these guys will come up with a decision about a pay raise based on performance, it didn't actually say anything about lulus or outside income, but performance, and the lawmakers either have to take it or vote it down. So, you know, it's sort of biting them back in their tush.
Governor Cuomo: Yes, tush, being the New York City word, primarily. Yes. You're exactly right. They didn't have a raise for 17 years. Not for any fault of anyone except they didn't want to vote for the raise, politically. The commission was highly credible. Former controllers and current controllers who theoretically would have a knowledge of finance. And they came up with a raise and reforms which is what the people of the state wanted. The legislature is now saying well I want a raise without the reforms. Yeah, well then just vote for it. You know how you do that? Stand up and raise your hand and vote for it. But they don't want to do that so the commission actually worked out. I do believe the lawsuit will be moot. I do believe the commission acted within their authority. I believe it was a good outcome. There is a pay raise but there are also reforms. But I believe the Assembly's rhetoric is going to make the lawsuit more difficult for them.
Susan Arbetter: So we're going to take a break. Did you want to come back and talk a little bit more?
Governor Cuomo: Please. Please.
Susan Arbetter: Ok. I think everybody is in a good mood because it's Friday so what we're going to do is take a break—when we come back we'll talk more about the lawsuit with Governor Andrew Cuomo as well as Amazon if we have time and anything else that's on your agenda. We'll be right back on the Capitol Pressroom.
Governor Cuomo: Thanks.
Susan Arbetter: So for my listeners, we're talking about a pay raise with Governor Andrew Cuomo and the pay raise basically gives lawmakers who earn currently about $79,500 per year $10,000 per year starting at $110,000, then $120,000 then $130,000 over three years. Do you think that, you know, a fulltime job here in Albany, rather, it's considered a part-time job, do you think, Governor, that $130,000 is fair for what lawmakers do?
Governor Cuomo: Yes, I do. And look, they hadn't had a raise in 17 years. They deserved a raise. The estimate was if you look at the rate of inflation, 17 years, they would have been up to about $122,000. I think that's a little deceptive because most of them weren't there for 17 years. And they could have passed a bill for 17 years. So I think $130,000 was fair. When you're in New York City, they compare it to the New York City Council salary which is $148,000. And the New York State Assembly, by protocol, historically, was higher than the City Council so it's infuriating to the Assemblypeople in New York City that the City Council gets paid $148,000. The flipside to that is the City Council has term limits. They have public finance. They have no lulus. but I think it is fair. Because we want to attract talent, you know? We don't want to have a sour legislators people who have no economic alternative. So I think it's fair but I think the reforms are fair also. One other thing I wanted to mention to you Susan, I am doing something a little different this year.
Susan Arbetter: What?
Governor Cuomo: Because this is a different year with what's going on in Washington. And I believe the state is under full out assault by the federal government.
Susan Arbetter: In what way?
Governor Cuomo: Well, first, pardon the pun, with SALT, the tax reform that raises our taxes, property taxes and income taxes by losing the federal deduction, which is going to be devastating for people. It hasn't happened yet. It happens in April. But your property taxes which we have capped at 2 percent could go up as much as 10, 15, 30 percent in one year. And that could even change the housing market in New York. And then on the social rights, they want to roll back Roe v. Wade, which is a fundamental woman's right to choose. They're anti-immigration policy, they're anti-LGBTQ policy, they're anti-labor policy. So I think we need a robust counter agenda where we have state laws that protect us from the federal government. And I am going to do an address on Monday, a speech on Monday, which is -
Susan Arbetter: Where?
Governor Cuomo: It's in New York City. Hosted by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center, which is run by Harold Holzer, who's a great historian.
Susan Arbetter: Absolutely, yeah.
Governor Cuomo: And a great Lincoln scholar actually. And he poses the question, what would FDR do today in this situation? Which is fascinating. My father once worked on a book, what would Lincoln do? You know, if you take their principles and apply it to today, if they were faced with this challenge, what would they do? So I'm going to speak on that but I'm also going to use it as the opportunity to say, I think FDR would do this and lay out the highpoints of my legislative agenda for next year.
Susan Arbetter: So this is going to be a preview of your State of the State?
Governor Cuomo: It is going to be a preview of the legislative items in the State of the State. Right? The State of the State, what it try to do -
Susan Arbetter: It's your vision.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah. It's your vision, the current status of the state, pros and cons, this is what we did well, this is what we have to do better. Here are our challenges. So it's a broader speech, the State of the State. We have an incoming legislature and I wanted to say these are the 15 things I'm trying to get done this year, and these are the 15 bills you're going to see.
Susan Arbetter: Is climate change among them?
Governor Cuomo: Yes. FDR, which I have been immersed in, I have always been an FDR fan. But I've been immersed in it now in the past few weeks getting ready for this, and thinking about it, FDR was very big on capture the moment. He was very demanding of government. He was not a process-oriented person. And the first one hundred days, which was one of the FDR hallmarks, you get into office, you lay out an agenda, and you get it passed. And that's 100 days. And yes it can be done in 100 days.
Susan Arbetter: So you're sort of doing a reset and saying this is, even though this is your third term, you're saying this is, we're starting anew. We're starting fresh. This is my first 100 days. And we're going to get this done.
Governor Cuomo: Because we are starting new. You know, this first year for me is nothing like the past eras. You know, it's like you wake up one morning, God forbid your house has burned down, you had a personal crisis, the whole situation is different. We have a federal government that is attacking us. And not only is it 180 degrees different than what we were dealing with under President Obama, they are in assault mode. And the state, I don't believe, has dealt with this kind of hostility from the federal government in modern political history. God forbid your house has burned down, you had a personal crisis. The whole situation is different. We have a federal government that is attacking us, and not only is it 180 degree different than what we were dealing with under President Obama, they are in assault mode and the state, I don't believe, has dealt with this kind of hostility from the federal government in modern political history. You had under President Reagan almost a passive aggressive. I mean President Reagan had fundamentally different views than we hold as New Yorkers but he was respectful of the differences. And the Senate and the House were respectful of the difference.
Susan Arbetter: You don't think that President Trump is?
Governor Cuomo: Well if President Reagan was passive aggressive, President Trump is aggressive aggressive.
Susan Arbetter: Many people would agree with you but he is somebody that we need or you need to work with if you want to get certain things done like Gateway.
Governor Cuomo: I went.
Susan Arbetter: I know.
Governor Cuomo: I shined. I broke bread. I smiled. I laughed. You can do both. Yes, we need to work with President Trump. Yes, we need President Trump's help and the federal government's help. We have an immensely complicated relationship with the federal government and Gateway is at the top of the list, the tunnels that go from New York to New Jersey. I believe you can work together with Republicans. I had a Republican Senate, Susan, for seven years. If I didn't work with them I would have gotten nothing done, right? And we've had the most productive seven years the state has seen since probably 1950, but I also can disagree with him and defend my state on the things they doing that are hostile or repugnant.
Susan Arbetter: So we have about 30 seconds before you go. Maybe you can share with us where this speech on Monday's going to be and give us a little taste, a preview of the preview.
Governor Cuomo: It is sponsored by the Roosevelt Center, which is part of the CUNY System. I am actually and embarrassingly not sure of the venue but the speech is going to get to the meat of the specific legislative issues. This is not going to be a lot of rhetoric and retrospective. We have a new legislature. I want to say here are my priorities. And I hope next time Susan you come into the subway tunnel and we visit the cat.
Susan Arbetter: Only if I get a HAZMAT suit. Thank you, Governor Cuomo, we appreciate it.