The upstate economy continues to stagnate, with consequent financial and social problems. The downstate economy continues to boom, with different problems and its own warning signs. No surprise.
This latest evidence of New York’s economic reality comes from the intellectually sound and politically suspect Empire Center and its estimable grey eminence E.J. McMahon. It’s a well-crafted analysis and consistent with dozens of other such reports.
It would be grand if such things impacted our politics, especially in the last weeks of a governor’s race. No such luck.
The report confirms two large truths that confront both contenders. Both are intent on ignoring them.
Truth 1: New York’s economy is booming in the high-tax, high-investment, high-regulation regions of the state. It is shriveling in the low-tax, low investment, low-regulation regions.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Marcus Molinaro is trapped by Truth 1 and the failed Republican ideological straitjacket demanding low taxes, low public investment and low regulation to spur economic growth. The report shows it doesn’t work. He’s abetted in this by upstate business groups and elected officials who simply ignore the evidence and sound like Donald Trump “mini-mes.” It’s bad economics and bad politics.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trapped by Truth 2 and a string of failed mega-projects. His insistence on giving large corporations huge amounts of public money has not created the jobs and economic activity promised. And they have been dogged by the inevitable corruption that follows such giveaways. He’s abetted in this by Democrats in the Legislature who know what’s happening and let it continue.
The remedy should be clear to both men: Stop the giveaways and use the money to invest directly in upgrading transportation, education and health care infrastructure. Then let the market guide private-sector investment decisions.
Upstate will still face formidable problems like bad weather, small cultural amenities and workforce shortages. But market economies will eventually self-correct if there is a sound physical and human infrastructure. If Detroit can do it, so can Buffalo or Schenectady.
Downstate will be able to face its recent neglect of the MTA, schools and hospitals. The current boom cannot survive the disinvestment policies that both Molinaro and Cuomo supported and continue to embrace.
Last week’s gubernatorial debate could have focused on such fundamentals. In another missed opportunity, the press and candidates lapsed into a shouting match that displayed their respective weaknesses. Molinaro couldn’t shake Trump or craft a forward-looking vision for the whole state. Cuomo looked unnecessarily mean, with little to say about what he would do in a third term.
Political debates are not scholarly exercises. But, in the end, ideas drive politics. It is true when the politically unexpected happens, like Trump. It’s also true when social movements, like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter, push us in new directions. And eventually the next governor will be forced to offer us new economic ideas, no matter how stoutly he ignores Truth 1 and Truth 2 during the campaign.
Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
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