The leaders of the state of New York just voted themselves a huge pay raise. Andrew Cuomo is about to become the highest-paid governor in the country, with a $250,0000 salary. His lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will get a bump to $220,000, meaning she’ll be better compensated than the governor of California, who is stuck at $202,000. Members of the state senate and assembly will see raises from $79,500 to $110,000 in January and to $130,000 in 2021. Not bad for a part-time job.
It’s all part of the orgy of spending that Cuomo just approved in the Empire State’s annual budget, which was passed in the wee hours of Sunday morning after the usual bonanza of craziness. The state’s already extravagant spending just jumped to $175.6 billion in 2019–20. That’s a “double whopper with extra cheese,” in the words of City Journal contributing editor Bob McManus, a 13 percent increase (in real, inflation-adjusted dollars) from 2010–11, when the state’s population was less than 1 percent smaller than it is now.
New York State spends more than twice as much per capita as Florida, and that’s excluding the gargantuan additional spending of New York City, which is on track to outspend Florida this year on its own. If you, like nearly half of the state’s residents, live in New York City, your state and municipal governments are spending more than $13,000 a head annually. Even California isn’t so loose with its purse strings.
And amid all of this profligacy, what do we hear, from Albany as well as City Hall? Help, we need more funding. The trains are in trouble and no new infrastructure can be built except at astonishing expense. Hence the nation’s first congestion-pricing scheme, effectively a billion-dollar annual tax set to be implemented in midtown and lower Manhattan. Details aren’t final yet but starting in 2021 cars will be hit with a charge of perhaps $12 to $14 (and trucks with a charge of around $25) for operating anywhere south of 60th Street. As if all of this weren’t enough to make you look up real-estate prices in Sarasota or Palm Beach, Cuomo slipped a ban on plastic bags into the budget. You’ll have to bring your own to the grocery store (with certain exceptions) or pay five cents for a paper bag.
It was just two years ago that Cuomo nixed a less-extreme plan by Bill de Blasio that would have required New York City stores to charge customers five cents for paper or plastic bags. At the time, Cuomo’s strange feud with his fellow progressive was a boon to New Yorkers: Whatever de Blasio wanted, whether it was raising the minimum wage or adding surtaxes on the wealthy who provide the gusher of revenue Democrats love to spend, Cuomo was sure to stymie him.
The new, unhinged Cuomo has apparently decided that his only shot at becoming a future Democratic nominee for president is to placate the left wing of the party. So he’s pushed for huge increases in the state minimum wage, which was $8.75 in 2015 and now ranges from $11.10 upstate to $12.00 in the metro-area suburbs to $15.00 in New York City for employers of eleven or more people. He’s expanded the “mansion tax,” a graduated surtax starting at 1 percent on apartments costing $1 million or more. Only in New York does, say, a 900-square foot, one-bedroom flat count as a mansion. (A random example of one such apartment found online costs its owner an additional $1,022 each month in maintenance.)
Thanks to last year’s congressional tax-reform package, which capped the federal state-and-local-tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000, buying real estate has become less attractive in high-priced New York neighborhoods. Manhattan real-estate transactions have fallen 18 percent since 2016, according to the Wall Street Journal. Inventory is up 21 percent in the last year. In the face of warning signs, and with the economic expansion nearing record duration, you might think that New York would consider tightening its belt. Due to setbacks on Wall Street late last year, the city is projecting a $935 million decrease in income-tax revenues while the state projects a decrease of around $2.3 billion. Yet de Blasio increased spending in his budget by $3 billion and Cuomo raised spending in his by $7.5 billion.
Cuomo is also pouring an additional billion dollars into the public schools, which are already the most lavishly funded in the nation. Freshman lawmakers who routed Republicans and moderate Democrats last November, creating genuine one-party rule in the state, are so pleased to have defeated better-funded incumbents that they secured up to $100 million in public financing for political campaigns. So New Yorkers get to pay for the campaigns of people seeking those $130,000 part-time jobs, the best-paid state legislative jobs in the nation. The details are not yet finalized, but the state may wind up following the city’s lead in matching small-donor contributions by six to one. Politicians using your dollars to pay for their campaigns: Even by New York standards, the chutzpah is breathtaking.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio have been raising their political profiles by assailing President Trump, and both are delusional about their chances of leading their party back to the White House. De Blasio has been spotted lurking in both Iowa and New Hampshire, even as one poll showed literally zero interest in his candidacy. Cuomo used his budget to again signal to national progressives that he is the leader they have been waiting for. “There are a number of national firsts and it really grapples with the tough issues,” he said of the plan. “We’ve done a lot of good work, a lot of good work that has informed the nation and I think this budget is probably the strongest, most progressive thing that we’ve made and actually addresses many of the difficult, difficult issues that we face today.”
Informed the nation? The nation doesn’t care and Cuomo’s own state can’t stand him. Six weeks ago his approval rating hit an all-time low of 43 percent, which explains his desperation to generate approving headlines from fellow spending fanatics like the ones at the New York Times, who predictably praised him for the Brobdingnagian new budget. He is putting the pedal down and driving the state head-on toward the next fiscal crisis. If he thinks the road ahead is going to be free of massive, bone-jarring potholes, he doesn’t know much about New York.