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: Brian Lehrer on WNYC and with six days to go before the April 1st New York State budget deadline and so many issues still on the table, from health and education spending to bail reform, congestion pricing, ethics reform, marijuana laws and more. And outside the budget the legal threats to President Trump now seeming to reside in New York, as Darren Samuelsohn from Politico was just saying. Governor Cuomo joins us now. Thanks as always Governor and welcome back to WNYC.
Governor Cuomo: Thanks, good to be with you Brian.
Brian Lehrer: And just to make a one question segue out of the last segment, maybe you were on the line and heard the Politico reporter say Congressman Clyburn says it's time for the Democrats to move on from Mueller land and focus on policy issues. So, if the full Mueller report, especially says Trump is really no implicated in federal crimes, how much do you want Attorney General Tish James and Manhattan DA Cy Vance to keep investigating Trump on state charges and how much does it just look like, what Trump calls "Presidential harassment for partisan reasons" and maybe even hurt the Democrats politically in 2020?
Governor Cuomo: Well, I think that is the profound question of the moment, Brian. And let's just separate what the President's going to say from fact. He will say he is exonerated, as he said, et cetera. The truth is if you're really exonerated, release the full Mueller report and minimize your redactions on legal grounds of security, et cetera. The New York investigation, southern district investigation, Manhattan DA, Attorney General, they should continue because he's not out of the woods. There are many cases that are pending. It's been acknowledged that people have done criminal acts. So, there is no exoneration, there's been indictments, which are the opposite of exoneration. But, at the same time, I think Congressman Clyburn, who I worked with when I was in Washington, he raises an important point, which is something I've been saying on your show also. It's not enough for the Democratic party going into a presidential just to be anti-Trump. Nobody makes the anti-Trump case better than Trump. Just let Trump talk, and let Trump act, and let Trump divide, and let Trump distort the Constitution to achieve his political goals, or attempt to achieve his political goals. He's making the anti-Trump case. We need to make the pro-Democratic case. And this is not about a Twitter war with Trump because if it's a Twitter war he's going to win. Let's do what Democrats should do. We have a different vision of society, a different vision of government. We have real ideas, proven policy ideas, proven leadership, proven competence that says to the American people we have a different vision for this country. We have an American choice. And our American choice sees a different society, has a way to get there and has proven leadership and competence that can do it.
Brian Lehrer: So, focus on that. Alright, let's talk about some New York choices. According to the interest group, the Alliance for Quality Education, you have proposed on education spending what they call a measly $338 million increase in so-called foundation aid, while the two houses of the Legislature have proposed $1.2 billion. This, as they say, inequities in poor schools have grown 25 percent while you've been in office amid a severe shortage in school counselors and social workers, and too few and outdated computers. They cite some using Windows 97 for students who can't afford a home computer. Are you getting closer to the Legislature's number on education funding?
Governor Cuomo: You cannot get the, let's separate the two issues. First of all, they're half right. We spend more money per pupil than any state in the United State of America. We spend two times the national average. No state spends more than we spend. We're adding a billion dollars to the funding. $1 billion and we already spend more than anyone else. Fact two: the inequity is a problem and it's a problem that I put my finger on and I have been pushing very hard. Last year for the first time I mandated that we disclose how much we fund each school building, each school itself. Not district. You can have a big district like New York City, you have 1,000 schools and we've been talking about how much we give the district. That's not relevant.
Brian Lehrer: Is that in the budget?
Governor Cuomo: That's in the budget. And I have said, from day one, this year has to be different. The state money should go to poorer schools. The state money should go to poorer schools. And the district should prioritize the poorer schools and use the state money as the equalizing fund.
Brian Lehrer: Well that's the principle that everybody agrees on. I guess the question is how much and if your number is $338 million and the legislature's number is $1.2 billion, you're going to get a lot of complaints from a lot of people advocating for poor schools.
Governor Cuomo: There's two issues. A, how much money is the gross amount and there we have more money than any state in the nation. B, how do you distribute it? And the discussion is really on the distribution. Because people can say we should prioritize poor schools, but in the political process, Brian, people want to bring home money to all their schools. Rich and poor. And that's going to be the political reality of this conversation.
Brian Lehrer: Right. Also on education funding, funding for SUNY and CUNY. There's a gap in the tuition assistant program that's being discussed as a priority for them. Supposedly we have free tuition now if students put all the available funding mechanisms in place. When we had the new CUNY Chancellor on recently we talked about adjuncts getting such low pay and CUNY, you know, putting full-time faculty out, numerically speaking, and relying more on adjuncts because of too little state funding. The union says, any promises on that?
Governor Cuomo: Again, you want to squeeze the balloon from one end it gets bigger on the other end. We are the first state to have free college tuition for families up to $150,000. So it's not just poor families, it's $150,000. I still call that middle class, maybe lower-middle class in this bizarre economy. But free college tuition up to $150,000 and we increased funding for SUNY and CUNY. Well do SUNY and CUNY have all the money they need? No. Does any institution have all the money they need? No. but you can't have it both ways. You can't say I want affordable college education and I want to keep tuition down, but SUNY and CUNY should have unlimited funds. We're in a down cycle. The budget is down $2.3 billion in revenues. So you can't do everything for everybody. That is the reality. So the Senate puts out what they call a one house budget. The Assembly puts out a one house budget and then we have to rationalize those with economic reality. Because we only have a certain amount of money to give out. And that's the budget process.
Brian Lehrer: Tuition assistant program funding will be there for all students who qualify?
Governor Cuomo: Yes.
Brian Lehrer: Congestion pricing for driving in the Manhattan business district to fund the MTA. Huge issue, media reports say it's looking up for this budget now with Long Island legislators being brought into a coalition by promising specific increases for the LIRR. Can you confirm that?
Governor Cuomo: It is proceeding, you know, this is you're not there until you're there. It's like watching a sports team come down the field to score a goal. You're on the five-yard line, that looks good, but you're not over the goal. So I'm cautiously optimistic. You call it congestion pricing, I want to call it MTA reform because what I've always said and what every New Yorker will tell you is I don't want to pay anything more until I know that the MTA is spending the money better and it's more efficient and more effective. And that's step one. Step two is, yes, we do need to spend more money. We've been bleeding the MTA for decades and we now finally have the body politic ready to pay more and we have to attack congestion. We have to get these cars off the road. You can't even drive in Manhattan.
Brian Lehrer: But to get some of the suburban legislators it seems like everyone wants carve outs, especially for drivers who cut over the RFK, the George Washington bridge, the Tappan Zee Mario Cuomo, the more - see, I called it by your father's name - the more tolls you exempt or divert, of course, the less you have for the transit authority, meaning the subways, so which of these can you live with and which can't you?
Governor Cuomo: That is the current discussion, and you're exactly right. Carve out this bridge, carve out this bridge, carve out my bridge is what it's comes down to. Carve out the bridge my constituents use said the assembly and senators. Yeah, but you carve this out, carve this out, it's a smaller pie. And we need the pie to fund the congestion and that's what we're going through now.
Brian Lehrer: And under the best scenario, if I understand it correctly, congestion pricing wouldn't kick in until 2021, so you wouldn't have significant revenue for a while after that. So how soon could you get money toward fixing the subway system?
Governor Cuomo: As soon as we can get up the infrastructure to do the tolling. This is now electronic tolling. We did it quickly at the bridges. We did it so quickly that people didn't even realize what we did. But those electronic tolling machines at the tunnels and the bridges, they went up in about nine-ten months I want to say. And they've worked very well. They've eased traffic, people move faster, it's more convenient. But to toll the central business district, as we call it, we have to put a number of electronic tolling sites, equipment, and that we're estimating at about just shy of two years. But as fast as we can get up the equipment is when it would start.
Brian Lehrer: And people are saying the pied-a-terre tax for additional funding for the MTA, that'll be a tax on high end second homes in New York City, is losing momentum in the budget talks. Can you confirm that?
Governor Cuomo: It's not losing momentum. There are a number of real estate, high end real estate, taxes called the pied-a-terre tax, but you could do it a number of ways. It could be a transfer tax; it could be an annual tax. We need the tax. I think it's justifiable. It would go to the MTA, it would be in the lock box, and I believe that in yours to the benefit of those Manhattan properties because if you have a better transportation system those properties will be worth more. We're still on the pied-a-terre tax, which is an annual tax on the higher secondary residences. Some people believe we can do it with a real estate transfer tax and that would be better. Obviously, if there's a better way to do it, fine. But we're committed to doing it and as of now we're on the pied-a-terre tax.
Brian Lehrer: Looks like you're at odds with the AFL CIO over campaign finance reform especially reducing the maximum donations and spending the money on state matching funds. You said this is all very important to you among the lines in the sand without which you won't sign a budget. Do you still feel that way?
Governor Cuomo: I support the AFL CIO I was endorsed by the AFL CIO. I am a lifelong labor supporter I disagree with them on public finance. I think that it is a system that helps bring small donors in. it improves the confidence in the system and I think it's time the state moves in that direction. It worked in NYC, it's not been flawless but we know the problems that have come up and I think we can correct for them and I think we should move to that on the state system. So I disagree with the AFL CIO on this one. I agree with them on another topic that's in the budget call prevailing wage. Which would pay a prevailing wage on public works projects. The dispute now is to at what threshold would prevailing wage kick in. I want to propose a compromise that if we can't get that done we let the department of labor do, set the standards on prevailing wage. And we get is passed that way.
Brian Lehrer: What's an example of. Make that clear for our listeners, what's an example of prevailing wage?
Governor Cuomo: Prevailing wage is a governmental set labor rate payment in different regions of the state. That pays the prevailing fare wage for labor for each occupation and we use the prevailing wage on public works. What is a public works? It is a project that is subsidize by government and is performing a public function. The, how big a project, what do you consider a public function? Those are all question marks.
Brian Lehrer: I believe that some fiscal watchdogs aren't very happy with the prospect of a prevailing wage law because it would obviously cost the state more on whatever projects you were contracting for and I think even some affordable housing advocates fear that those projects that have state funding become less affordable what do you want to say to those two groups.
Governor Cuomo: I would exempt the affordable housing projects because you can make a case that increases the cost of construction Brian, but look, I was the first state in the nation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and people said now everything is more expensive, my cup of coffee is more expensive because I have to pay $15 an hour. That's true. The $15 an hour does raise the cost of production of services. I believe ultimately it stimulates the overall economy because you have more money coming into the economy. But it also pays people fair wage. You need to pay people a wage that allows them to live. And prevailing wage is the same argument on the labor side.
Brian Lehrer: So is there, so are you suggesting that there might be a deal here? You give the construction industry the prevailing wage bill that they might want and then the unions will agree to the public financing of campaigns and the spending limits on campaigns that you want.
Governor Cuomo: No I don't think there will be a deal. I think the AFL CIO opposes public finance I understand that, I respectfully disagree, but look in my position if you only do things that people agree with, you do very few things.
Brian Lehrer: But I think the assembly is with him on this, so is this still a line in the sand for you?
Governor Cuomo: I think it is essential. Short answer, yes. I think we have to come out of this budget but it's not really a budget. This decision making point with no democratic senate and democratic assembly where we can say this state is going to be doing public finance.
Governor Cuomo: Democratic Assembly, where we can say this state is going to be doing public financing.
Brian Lehrer: Governor Cuomo with us here on WNYC with six days to go before the April 1st budget deadline. And so many issues: budgetary and non-budgetary in play, and another one that's not a budget item but that I know you really want in this package is criminal justice reform. But my last understanding is you and some of the lawmakers and the DA's around the state still have a gap on the question of cash bail. You want to abolish it completely but you've also said you're open to some exceptions for people arrested and arraigned on certain violent crimes. How close are you to closing that gap?
Governor Cuomo: We are close but we're not there yet. And you're right, this to me is an issue of fundamental principle. You have a justice system, lady justice wears a blindfold and holds the scales of justice but then you say to people we're going to set bail on how much money you have in your pocket and we're going to determine your liberty based on your wealth. That is not justice and we have to move away from a cash bail system to a merit based determination on flight risk of the individual. You know, we have a Democratic Senate now. We had a Republican Senate for seven years and the Republican Senate I was constantly frustrated, because we couldn't get some of these fundamental justice and social justice issues done. We now have a Democratic Senate; we have the same basic underlying tension. I get the DAs, I'm a former Assistant District Attorney, I'm a former Attorney General--I respect the criminal justice system. But, I can't see the perpetuation of cash bail and we're trying to work it through and I think that's another must at this decision making point. We have a Democratic Senate, we have a Democratic Assembly, we have a Democratic Governor, we've waited for seven and eight years, enough. Let's do what we said we would do for this state and make it the most progressive state in the United States of America.
Brian Lehrer: Marijuana legalization. You said last week it's out for the budget season, maybe back in by the end of the session in June. But State Senator Liz Krueger was here last week and said it's still possible for now for this cycle by Monday. People are still talking about it, negotiating. And I'm curious, if the fact that this went down in New Jersey yesterday was defeated, or they couldn't bring it up for a vote in the Legislature because it would've been defeated, gives New York an opportunity to get ahead to its economic advantage.
Governor Cuomo: I think so and we are talking about it. I'd love to get it done in the budget. The Legislative leader said several weeks ago they wouldn't count on it being done in the budget and since we were counting on the revenue of marijuana, what I said to you was we're going to use the pied-a-terre tax, which is the substitute for the marijuana in MTA financing for the lockbox. But, we're still trying to get it done in the budget. I think it's better to get it done in the budget. Again, the budget is a decision making point that stops dialogue and tends to forge compromise and consensus and if you go past the budget, Brian, then there's no natural termination point. You can debate, you can argue, you can refine and I think our best shot for getting it done is to get it done in the budget.
Brian Lehrer: You're making news. This is back in the budget, when you said it had been out of the budget.
Governor Cuomo: No. Let's be clear, it is on the table and we're still talking about it. I have not counted the revenue in my budget because --
Brian Lehrer: Right, it'll take a year to ramp it up anyway, I understand that. But the topic is back in the budget negotiations.
Governor Cuomo: The topic was never off the table. The revenue wasn't counted, not because in the delay in the revenue but because the legislative leaders said they were unsure that it would be done in the budget and therefore I can't count revenue on an item that we're not sure to include, you know I can't do an MTA financing plan based on MTA marijuana revenue if we haven't passed a marijuana bill
Brian Lehrer: Let me ask you one amazon-related question, can you respond to the allegations from the amazon employee at the Staten Island warehouse who says he was fired for trying to unionize since you believe losing the amazon deal was a huge blow the worker said the warehouse was unbearable hot, quote we've asked the company to get air conditioning but they've told us the robots inside can't work in the cold weather so there's nothing they can do about it, that's what the worker who was fired alleges, have you looked into that is there a state standard they can apply there.
Governor Cuomo: I have not looked into it, I do not know the temperature that robots can work in, maybe I should, but I do not.
Brian Lehrer: How about the temperature that human beings can work in
Governor Cuomo: That I know about. But look, I think amazon was a tremendous loss, if people feel, well, amazon should be unionized, and as they said, we have the highest union percentage of our population. More people are unionized in this state than any other state, let me say it that way. And the way to get that done was to have amazon come in and then make efforts to organize the workforce, and there couldn't be a better place to organize the workforce than the state of New York. But keeping them out was not the answer. If there's abuse of employees, then we have a department of labor on the state side that regulates work conditions, there's a federal regulatory mechanism that I wouldn't realistically trust that much, but we have a state department of labor and if there are work condition violations then our state department of labor will look into them.
Brian Lehrer: Last thing for today before we run out of time, assembly member Linda Rosenthal just proposed legislation to limit the use of so called keyless entry systems, the electronic entry as the only means of entry, after news of Hell's Kitchen residents suing their rent stabilized building over the new technology, now turns out a huge Brooklyn building, rent-stabilized was considering a facial recognition entry system. What do you think about her legislation?
Governor Cuomo: Frankly Brian, I haven't seen it, so I need to understand the rationale.
Brian Lehrer: Do you think it gives landlords too much power if they can lock people out on the basis of not having electronic entry of one kind or another.
Governor Cuomo: I don't know, I don't know, why couldn't a landlord just change the lock, as opposed to change the combination on the key lock, I don't know, I'd have to look into it.
And you'll look into it and maybe next time here you'll tell us what you found on facial recognition and keyless entry. Alright, Governor Cuomo, six days to go before the budget, do you think you're going to make it on time.
Governor Cuomo: I don't know, I've said the main problem with this budget are the numbers, everyone wants to do a lot of good things, we have a new senate, a lot of new members, I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do this, and then you have the fiscal reality of a shortfall, and I want to get a budget done on time but I also want to get a good budget done. I have never passed a bad budget, meaning a budget where we had to come back and fix it because we turned out to be wrong. I've never done that, past governors have done that and it's ugly and it destabilizes the state. So I'm not going to do an irresponsible budget. And I've also gotten budgets done on time and I'm proud of that, it changes a very basic pattern for this state. But we have to get it on time and it has to be right.
Brian Lehrer: Governor, thanks as always, talk to you next time.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you Brian, bye.