“The New NY Agenda” is the title of a policy booklet issued yesterday by Andrew Cuomo, the soon-to-be nominated Democratic gubernatorial candidate. If that title sounds familiar, it’s because “New, New York” (including that all-important comma after the first “New”) was also used by former Gov. Mario Cuomo as a label for his economic development plan almost 20 years ago. As marketing concepts go, the precedent is not encouraging.
The $800 million Jobs for the New, New York Bond Act of 1992 was proposed near the end of the worst recession that New York State had encountered (up to that time) since the 1930s. The bond act was essentially a cement-mixer full of public-works spending, tailored for maximum political appeal by region.
The 1992 bond proposition was favored by the state’s Democratic political establishment from Gov. Cuomo on down; it also was strongly supported by construction unions, contractors and most business groups, and had been approved by the then-Republican majority in the state Senate. Among elected officials at the state level, the only opponents were state Comptroller Edward Regan, a Republican, and the GOP minority in the state Assembly, then under the leadership of Clarence D. “Rapp” Rappleyea.*
New York State had lost roughly a half-million jobs during the three years leading up to the bond referendum. The bond was supposedly all about creating new jobs. So, its backers obviously assumed it would be a slam dunk. They were wrong. On election day, the Jobs for the New, New York Bond Act was soundly rejected, with 56 percent in the “no” column.
Since those pesky voters didn’t know what was good for them, the Legislature later joined with a new governor, Republican George Pataki, to initiate a new public works spending binge without voter approval–even though, by that time (the mid-1990s), the private-sector economy was back to creating plenty of jobs on its own. This category of capital pork has since come to routinely augment annual legislative member item spending.
Andrew Cuomo’s 224-page policy booklet does not contain any proposal to curb backdoor borrowing by the Legislature or to reform borrowing practices in general, other than a pledge to curb public authorities.
* Disclosure: I was director of Ways & Means staff for Assembly Republicans in 1992.
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