Governor Cuomo: "It is a great irony. They're talking about the president is going to offer a unifying message today on the State of the Union. He is the Divider in Chief. He started from day one. It's a political tactic—divide and conquer. Divide by religion, divide by sexual orientation, divide by immigration status, and now divide by wealth."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on WNYC with Brian Lehrer.
A full transcript of the interview is available below:
Brian Lehrer: BrianLehrer on WNYC and Governor Cuomo does join us now as the blue wave of change continues to sweep through the halls of power in Albany with Democrats having won control of the State Senate. Reproductive Health Act - check. Child Victims Act - check. Further gun control - check. The expansion of voting - check. And several others. We'll see now about cannabis and other criminal justice reform, congestion pricing and more. But there was also some troubling new news about state tax revenues that the Governor attributes largely to the Trump federal tax reform, which frankly, always looked like it was actually designed to hurt New York. And the battle over Amazon for Queens came a step closer to the Governor's door yesterday, we'll talk about that. Good morning Governor, welcome back to WNYC.
Governor Cuomo: Top of the morning to you Brian, how are you?
Brian Lehrer: Good, thank you. Let's start with the bad news this week. Sorry to say, your announcement yesterday about tax revenues for this current fiscal year, which ends two months from now, being below expectations, by how much and how much do you blame the federal tax reform law?
Governor Cuomo: I hate when we start with the bad news. Can't we start with the good news or the good social progress we made?
Brian Lehrer: Next week. It was in the lede.
Governor Cuomo: Alright. Let's go to the bad news. The bad news is we are seeing a drop in the expected revenue. I did a press conference with the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli yesterday, and we're all seeing the same thing. It's not a question of one person's projections vs. another. There is a drop in revenues, that is certain. It's about $2.3 billion and that is highly significant in this scope of our state budget. The question goes to why. There's no doubt that there's volatility in the national economy, and you had a federal shutdown, and the markets at the end of the year were tumultuous. But, our belief is it's something worse, frankly, which is the effect of Donald Trump's divisive tax reform plan that he put into effect.
And I've been talking about this until I'm blue in the face, pardon the pun. It was complicated so people didn't get it. He did a tax reform plan that said give to the corporations, give to the rich people, everyone understood that. But there was a provision that ended the deductibility of state and local taxes, called SALT. It was complicated and nobody focused on it. What it did was it set up two tax structures in this nation. And the Democratic states actually pay higher taxes now than the Republican states. It was an economic civil war.
And we have the most progressive tax code in the United States of America in New York, and I had made the tax code more progressive. So, the richest people in our society pay the most, which is the way I think it should be. We have the second highest millionaires tax in the United States. The problem is when you have a progressive tax code on the state level, rich people have options - they can move - that's why my father before me and I've always argued this should be done on a national level so people can't shop states for better tax codes. What Trump has done, he's highlighted that. Because not only do we have no the second highest millionaires tax, and the rich people pay the highest proportionate share of the taxes, our top one percent pay 50 percent of the taxes. Top one percent pay 50 percent of the taxes. The fear is, can you get to a tipping point where the wealthy say I'll move and I'll save hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liability?
Brian Lehrer: So, let me follow up and ask, do you have reliable figures that show you that this new $2 billion plus state income tax, or state tax, shortfall is because, since the federal tax reform passed, that some of the wealthiest New Yorkers have in fact moved out of state ion 2018?
Governor Cuomo: Yes. This is what we have. The states with the largest revenue decline in the country - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts. Those are all states effected by SALT. Well, what's the reduction in the other states? Pennsylvania is only down 3 percent. We're down 50 percent. Ohio down 5 percent. Massachusetts is down 50 percent. Indiana is actually up. Wisconsin is about flat. So yes, you are seeing the states that are effected by SALT have a dramatic drop in revenue compared to the other states who happen to be Republican states that are not affected by salt.
Brian Lehrer: Right. I guess I just want to try to nail down as well as we can how much and how well you can actually say this is because of wealthy New Yorkers paying less tax because these wealthy New Yorkers have moved out of state. How do you know and is there a number of people above a certain income threshold who have left compared to say, 2015, 2016?
Governor Cuomo: What we have at this point—you have Tax Privacy Act, so looking at individual tax returns is obviously protected by privacy. What you have, which is definitive, which answers your question I believe, Brian, the states that have the SALT effect have lost much more revenue than those states that haven't. Now SALT only effects the richer people in society. And you get to a state like New York where you are disproportionately dependent on the richest people. 1 percent of the richest people in the state pay 50 percent of the taxes. That is the danger of a hyper progressive tax code, which is what we have. And I believe Trump knew exactly what he was doing. I know because at the time they were passing SALT, there were a number of conversations, a number of very wealthy new Yorkers were speaking to the president and saying, you're going to kill New York State. Because establishing residence in a place like Florida or North Carolina is not that difficult. A lot of business is now done over the computer. It's not like the old days where someone had to pick up their factory and move to Florida. And he was warned that this is what would happen because these are the most mobile people on the globe. And when you say to someone, well staying in New York now is going to cost you an additional 30 percent, at one point there is a tipping point. So yes, you want the more progressive tax code in the United States. I'm proud of it. I did it. I did it. I was not anticipating a federal government that would come behind us and then penalize those states that had a progressive tax code—
Brian Lehrer: So, I'm sorry you can finish your thought.
Governor Cuomo: And actually help those Republican states. I mean, it is a great irony. They're talking about the president is going to offer a unifying message today on the State of the Union. He is the Divider in Chief. He started from day one. It's a political tactic—divide and conquer. Divide by religion, divide by sexual orientation, divide by immigration status, and now divide by wealth.
Brian Lehrer: So do I see you're asking the New York Congressional Delegation to hold up other bills until the state and local tax deduction for federal income taxes is put back the way it was?
Governor Cuomo: This is a dagger at the economic heart of Democratic states. We have a Democratic congress. They had no choice by to pass the tax reform when he passed it. They should now say in a united voice—because it hurts all of them. I mean, California, New York, New Jersey. It hurts every Democratic state. And they should play their cards, frankly, as adamantly as Trump played his. They have control. He is directly hurting their states and they should make this at the top of the list. "We want this reformed. We want it fixed." Because it was, I believe it's unconstitutional. It is an economic civil war.
Brian Lehrer: My guest is Governor Cuomo. And let's talk about Amazon. The Democrats in the Senate have appointed Senator Michael Gianaris of Long Island City to the Public Authority's Control Board. Gianaris is an opponent of the Amazon deal, which you support and the control board, I've read, needs to vote unanimously for the deal to proceed, but you can reject Gianaris's appointment. So I guess you're move, have you decided whether you will.
Governor Cuomo: Well look let's talk about Amazon or a second, especially in light of this. I get politics. I'm a Queens boy through and through. But I understand politics and I also understand government and there's a difference between the two and I think it's unfortunate that the Senate is playing politics here. Yes, it's great politically to oppose the Amazon deal. It's Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people, why are we giving him a break, he should be paying more than anybody else, I'm against it. Governmentally, on the facts, put aside the symbolism. Especially in light of what we just have seen, we need to diversify our economy. Bringing in tech is very important. This was a national competition for Amazon. No company brings 25,000 jobs, Brian. I beg companies and spend hours for 100 jobs, 200 jobs. You don't get 25,000 jobs in one company any more. We have the highest taxes in the United States of America. It was a national competition. Amazon said if I come to New York will you offer us an incentive. Which every company that comes to New York says. I don't think we bring a big company without an incentive package.
Brian Lehrer: They say Google is expanding, adds many jobs, without asking for the same benefits.
Governor Cuomo: There are, Google may have reasons of their own, but I do this all day long, when you have the highest taxes in the United States you have to offer an incentive package. On Amazon, they give us almost 30 billion in revenue. And we give them a $3 billion incentive. Think of it this way, rather than paying 10 percent tax per year, they pay 9 percent. Well why should we give them any break? Otherwise they wouldn't be here. and if somebody says to any Anew York, I'll give you 30 billion if you give me 3 billion back, the answer is yes, of course. That's the answer. They would have come anyway. No they wouldn't. You have Newark, New Jersey that is offering them a much more extensive package. Close to $7 billion. They could have gone to Newark. They could have had that same workforce and we would have lost all those revenues.
Brian Lehrer: So will you reject Gianaris's appointment to the Public Authorities Control Board.
Governor Cuomo: Well we're not there yet. I don't even know, depending on the exact design of the transaction will depend on the approvals we need. What I do reject is the triumph of politics over government. I understand the political temperature is high, but I also believe that we should act responsibly and governmentally. And I know I went through a campaign, I'm taking the heat on Amazon and people saying well Bezos is rich, he shouldn't get anything. It will cost us $27 - $30 billion to say no. and in light of where we are. 25,000 jobs. $150,000 on average. A whole foothold in the new tech economy. Well we need housing, we need transportation. Yes, and you need revenue to do that. And why would you say no to $27 billion. There's no number two on the list who comes in when Amazon says no.
Brian Lehrer: Given how vocal the opposition is and how persistent, at the New York City Council testimony last week by Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman he said the company wants to be where they're welcome. How seriously do you think Amazon is considering pulling out?
Governor Cuomo: Look I think Amazon has not done a great job communicating. There is a symbolism to Amazon and Bezos you just were talking about it on the last session, you know, everybody loves to hate Jeff Bezos. So I understand that. I think if Amazon pulled out you would see all these political voices, who are arguing symbolism all of the sudden understand what they did. And it would be a dramatic blow to, not just the economy but also the reputation. New York is about commerce, it's about jobs. None of this works without jobs. None of these great political theories work without jobs. Free this, free that, which is - we're doing free college, we are the most progressive state in the nation. But you need revenue and you need jobs and you need opportunity. And if there going somewhere else, the people will follow.
Brian Lehrer: Let me check on one of the progressive bills that passed the legislature and I'm not sure if it's technically been sent to your desk yet. The New York State DREAM Act to provide financial aid and scholarships to undocumented immigrants in college, like any other New Yorker, I believe you've supported it. Has that actually reached your desk?
Governor Cuomo: Not yet. We have had - what you've seen over the last few weeks is a dam has burst. For seven years, Brian, I put forth the same bill, I fought the same fight, and I had the ultraconservatives in the Senate stop it. And now, they're gone and more gun control after New York State passed the SAFE Act, the best gun control law in the United States, we now made it better with the Red Flag Bill, the Reproductive Health Act, the DREAM Act, the Child Victims Act, that's just seen child victimized and with no recourse, those bills have all passed. And it's been just, I can't tell you how liberating it has been. Now we're going to focus on the budget which is going to be more difficult and that's the meat and potatoes of government. But frankly, that's going to be the challenge for this legislature.
Brian Lehrer: But you're still going to sign the DREAM Act in the form that it passed?
Governor Cuomo: Yes.
Brian Lehrer: For the end document. Some people pushed back on that, some republicans in New York are pushing back saying that it's, you know, tax money being used to subsidize people in the country illegally. And they don't like their tax money being used for that.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah well we believe, in New York, we believe in immigration. We are all immigrants, I believe, unless you're Native American. We believe in educating all because it lifts us all. I took it a step further with free college tuition to state schools, SUNY schools, CUNY schools. Even for middle class families. Why? Because college has gotten impossibly expensive and we believe in education for all as a part of the dream of opportunity, opportunity is not just waving a wand, it's giving people the skills to excel. And we believe when one excels, we all excel. So yes, they've been against the DREAM Act, they stopped it for seven years. I had this fight for seven years and now it's passed and I think it's a great thing and I think free college tuition is a great thing. And Reproductive Health Act when you have a president who wants to roll back Roe v. Wade and take away a women's right to choose. Child Victims Act - yes, they wanted to protect the Catholic Church. I don't believe a priest who abuses children should be protected. I don't. And that passed. So, what you've seen is all the items that the conservatives stopped, we passed, and they reflect, I think, the progressive history and legacy of New Yorkers and the progressive politics of New Yorkers.
Brian Lehrer: It appears, or it's being reported, that President Trump is getting ready to run for reelection, partly by opposing the NY Reproductive Health Act because of how it allows late term abortions under certain circumstances. He's going to try to rally the Evangelical base for turn out. Can you defend as not morally wrong killing a viable life?
Governor Cuomo: Yeah, Brian, I am, I happen to be Roman Catholic, but one of the cardinal rules is my oath is to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York. I don't legislate my religion. What Trump is trying to do is divide people. There is a pattern here. From immigration to religion, the anti-Muslim ban, to anti-LGBTQ, to military ban against transgender, and now what he wants to do is say I want to roll back Roe v. Wade. It has nothing to do with the New York State law. The New York State law only codified Roe v. Wade. It codified the current federal standard and practice. It did nothing different. It codified the federal law. It says a woman has the right to choose, health or life of a mother. That is Roe v. Wade. What he's saying is I want to roll back Roe v. Wade. What the Catholic Church is saying is we want to roll back Roe v. Wade and New York now codifying it makes it more difficult to roll back Roe v. Wade because even if they rolled back Roe v. Wade federally, we have a state law. That's why I passed the state law.
Brian Lehrer: But related to this, we know before Governor Northam in Virginia was in trouble for the racist yearbook photo, he was in trouble last week for supporting what critics are calling infanticide when there are certain kind of extremely serious health problems upon delivery—Northam said "if a mother is in labor I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated. If that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother." And that was a quote of course. Is that in the New York law?
Governor Cuomo: The New York law is just a mirror of the federal law. Don't chase the bone that the republicans are throwing. It does nothing different. It's the life or health of a mother. The quote unquote late term abortions is like 1 percent for the life or health of the mother. It is the federal standard. And what they're really saying is we want to repeal the federal standard to go back before Roe v. Wade 46 years ago. That's what they're saying. And yes, you are right in what you said in the opener. He wants to rally the Evangelicals and the Christian right who believe abortion is wrong. If you believe abortion is wrong, you want to roll back Roe v. Wade and you're against the New York law which codified Roe v. Wade. And there are many, many, many people who are against abortion. The Catholic Church is against abortion.
Brian Lehrer: But that instance of delivery and the severely sick infant and deciding whether resuscitate—is that legal in New York or do you think Northam mischaracterized that whole thing?
Governor Cuomo: It is—New York's life or health exception mirrors the federal law. Whatever is the federal law is the law in New York.
Brian Lehrer: And by the way, should Northam resign, in your opinion—over the yearbook photo or what he said since it came out?
Governor Cuomo: My opinion is that to govern, you need the confidence and support of the people, otherwise you can't do your job. And I don't see how he can actually do his job given the situation that he's in. being Governor is not just having the title. It's having the trust and the confidence of the people. And I don't, I think he's lost that.
Brian Lehrer: Anything you'll be watching for at the State of the Union Address tonight or the Democratic responses?
Governor Cuomo: If this President stands up and says that he's the great unifier, I will do all in my power not to throw a slipper at the television set.
Brian Lehrer: That's a good start. Anything you're hoping to hear from Stacey Abrams?
Governor Cuomo: I hope she points out how this President has taken the cheapest, oldest political tactic of divide and conquer and created a rift in this nation that we have never seen and has taken our greatest strength, which is our diversity, and now turning it into a weakness by turning one American against another American. That's what his Presidency has been all about.
Brian Lehrer: Governor, thanks as always—talk to you next time.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Brian.