Joseph Bruno has survived his share of grilling by reporters over the years, but nothing prepared him for the doozy of a question posed by a NY1 reporter last week.
“Where would you cut spending, if you had to?” the reporter, Joshua Robin, asked the 78-year-old Senate leader.
Mr. Bruno, who was busy touting his new “economic development” plan for upstate, clearly failed to see this one coming. He was here to talk about his “economic development” proposal for more than $600 million in state investments, not about budget cutting.
“Where would I cut spending?” he responded, giving himself time to think this one out. After a pause, Mr. Bruno gave a remarkable answer:
“You know what really makes sense is to invest heavily in the economy and job creation. … What we are saying here, and we’re saying it as forcefully as we can … you stimulate the economy, simple Economics 101, okay, broaden your revenue base. How do you it? That’s the trickledown. That’s the Keynesian theory of economics, stimulate — what do they call it? — prime the pump. Think about it, makes sense, you invest, and it pays off.”
Let’s set aside Mr. Bruno’s conflation of supply-side and Keynesian theory. What Mr. Bruno is saying is that the only way the upstate region is going to recover is if the state comes to the rescue and props up the economy with more if its own investments. In other words, the answer to the question was not only to spend more — it was incomprehension.
If there’s a problem, throw money at it. That’s been the economic bedrock of both Republicans and Democrats in New York for decades, a tradition passed on from Rockefeller to Cuomo to Pataki and Spitzer. Albany, especially Mr. Bruno, prefers stimulants to solutions. The problem with solutions is that they threaten the special interests. Stimulants, however, don’t threaten anybody. They allow Albany to pretend to be fixing something by writing checks.
This Red-Bull approach to economic policy explains why Albany’s response to the problem of high property taxes was not to ignore the underlying causes of high property taxes and instead create a program called STAR that uses tax-payer money to underwrite a portion of the tax burden. STAR has been an expensive disaster that has had almost no effect on lowering taxes, but is only growing larger under the Spitzer administration.
Albany could actually address the problem by passing a property tax cap, such as the one proposed by the minority leader in the Assembly, James Tedisco. But Albany won’t do it. Such a cap would make it more difficult for school districts to increase their budgets and thus teacher salaries. So it’s opposed by teachers unions, which have veto power over Mr. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Were Mr. Bruno sincere about trying to help the upstate economy, he would favor repealing the Wicks Law, a costly construction mandate, and changing the so-called Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, a provision that gives unions a tremendous negotiating advantage and effectively has prevented the region from reducing labor costs.
Mr. Bruno doesn’t like to discuss those mandates, but prefers to talk about “economic development,” a phrase that has become as meaningless as “social justice” or “budget reform.”
As the Manhattan Institute’s E.J. McMahon points out, if the billions of dollars in capital pork that has been spent over the last decade actually worked, upstate would be booming by now. “The Senate needs to give up on the notion that anyone connected with state government is a wiser judge of how to invest money than private investors on their own,” Mr. McMahon said.
Certainly Mr. Bruno, a businessman who seems to lose money on everything he touches from real estate, to horse racing to venture investments, isn’t wiser. But now he wants us to trust him with another helping of taxpayer money. The New York economy would be better off if Mr. Bruno left everything alone and played golf in Florida.
Yet Mr. Bruno has been able to sell himself as a free market libertarian thanks to the sporadic interest Mr. Spitzer has displayed in the upstate economy. Mr. Spitzer did take a break last week from lobbying for more apples in school cafeterias to announce a major “economic development” coup: Beech-Nut, the baby food company, would be relocating its headquarters to New York.
It took as much as $100 million in tax benefits and grants to persuade Beech-Nut to do business here. That comes to $750,000 a job, but when you’re talking about “economic development,” money is no object.
Why doesn’t Mr. Spitzer pay restive New Yorkers to stay put? Are you sick of property taxes and thinking about moving to Arizona? Wait. Don’t go. Here’s a check for $750,000.
If the bribing works for Beech-Nut, and tech firms Sematech and AMD, it should work for the rest of us. After all, as Mr. Bruno will tell you, that’s the trickle down. Just ask John Maynard Keynes.
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