August 17, 2014

Questions for Zephyr Teachout

Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout seems to be having the time of her life in her primary campaign against our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo. There's been a lot of attention, much of which is pro-Zephyr, not just anti-Andy. I find that encouraging; it's easy to support someone new simply out of dislike of the other guy.

AP photo/Hans Pennink
I would love a debate between Cuomo and Teachout.

It's important that incumbents don't sit on their high horses (or, in Cuomo's case, in another country) during the primary season, ignoring their challengers, and the voters.

We deserve better.

The only sure thing is that I will be voting in the primary on September 9th - right now my vote's up for grabs.  And on the likely chance that we won't get a debate, here are some questions for Zephyr Teachout.

(1) Economic Development:
Your position on economic development touches four points: economic fairness, having a 21st century Internet, stopping consolidation, and infrastructure.

You note that you would push to increase the minimum wage, pointing out that Cuomo's increase (implemented incrementally over three years) did not go far enough. I admit to some discomfort with, say, doubling the minimum wage without making changes to all wages.  But let's agree that the minimum wage should be higher, and should get there faster than 2016.
Would you leave in place the minimum wage reimbursement credit that is paid to businesses to cover a sizable portion of the hourly increase, or should businesses pay the fair wage on their own?
As part of economic fairness, you reference Cuomo's focus on big business, specifically changes in the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and certain taxes paid by banks.  However, you did not mention one of Cuomo's economic development achievements, the Start-UP NY, or Tax Free NY program, which allows new companies to come to New York, plop down near a SUNY Campus or a designated private college or university and get a pass on sales, property or business taxes. And their employees don't have to pay state income taxes for 10 years.

Clearly, this program is not fair to existing companies and their employees, including those companies who can expand into these tax-free zones, as long as they maintain their existing workforce.  And of course we've been promised that the shirt-changing, game-playing of similar programs from the past will not happen this time.
Given your stated preference for economic fairness, would you continue this program as-is, continue it with changes that make the playing field more level and fair for existing companies, the ones that do pay sales, property and business taxes, and their employees who are required to pay income tax, or would you scrap this program all together and do something else to promote development, increase employment, and encourage growth? If the answer is scrap it, describe what you would do to engage businesses to come to - or stay in - New York? 
You also reference infrastructure and expanding competition, rather than consolidating it, as other key components of your economic development platform. I agree with you both on the critical need for all New Yorkers to have affordable, reliable access to high speed Internet and on disapproving of the Comcast - TimeWarner merger.

Here in my neck of the woods, the infrastructure issues that are of greatest concern are the deteriorating condition of roads, bridges, and our water delivery system. We have streets in desperate need of repair in our central business districts and our neighborhoods, and not enough time or money to fix all of them. Syracuse had the dubious distinction of making NY Times this past February, with our 100+ water main breaks just in the first six weeks of the year. Our water delivery infrastructure is decades-old  and acts it, in an ornery and cantankerous fashion. Whenever a main breaks, there are not only issues with a lack of water for the impacted area, but the ripple effect, pardon the pun, is extensive AND expensive for local businesses, employees, and customers.
In addition to having New York companies work on New York infrastructure, and restoring infrastructure funds 're-purposed' for the state's general fund, what assistance can local municipalities expect from the state to help correct these critical infrastructure issues?
Another 'up here' issue is the effort to get some sort of high speed passenger rail service along the Empire Corridor, a route that generally follows the path of the existing Interstate network from Buffalo and Niagara Falls to NYC.  How much use this high speed rail system might get depends on how fast the trains go, where they stop, how often they run, and of course how (and how much) work will be done to separate existing passenger and freight lines, which everyone seems to blame for Amtrak trains travelling more slowly than cars on the Thruway. 

Regular infrastructure problems -- roads and bridges, water delivery, broadband access - these are all people problems, they're fiscal problems, and they're future growth and development problems. And as you note they're public health and safety issues as well, in light of the problems experienced after Hurricane Sandy (and I'd add Super Storm Irene as well). Those storms opened our eyes to a whole other set of infrastructure and service delivery issues which have not effectively been addressed. 
How do you prioritize these issues?  Is attention going to be paid first to NYC, the MTA and the Sandy fallout, and let the upstate chips fall where they may?  Or can you fund critical priorities in both areas without breaking the bank or our collective financial back?
(2) Energy:
You support a full and fast ban on fracking, and an end to the dance around the issue, which I cynically believe is designed to prevent a decision from occurring during a Cuomo administration. Many residents in the Southern Tier, who see the economic boom happening across the border in Pennsylvania, not only want a decision now, but they want a 'full steam ahead' decision, now.
What industry or industries do you feel could provide similar economic impact as fracking, but without the risk to the environment? 
You also note that we need large-scale public works programs to help us retrofit existing structures, from public buildings to gas stations, to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.
Do you envision a modern-day Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the unemployed and able-bodied people in the safety net?
(3) Clean, fair and open elections:
I agree with most of your positions on campaign finance reform, including limiting the amount that can be contributed, closing the LLC loophole, and the unfettered use of housekeeping accounts. I would go farther on this issue, however.
Do you support term limits for those who serve at the state level, including members of the Legislature, the Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and so on, with a maximum combined 12 years in state elected office?
Would you support campaign finance laws that require donations only from residents of the legislative district where applicable, meaning no out-of-state funds, and no out-of-district funds for legislative seats as well as seats at the county, town and village level?
Would you apply the same limits to unions (public employee groups as well as others) as you would on corporations? 
I also agree that we need to reboot the Moreland Commission, but I have a concern with the make-up of the committee, particularly the fact that eleven of the commissioners are elected District Attorney, including two of the three commission chairs. I'm not convinced that these folks are any more pure than the others, who as you point out, may not be doing anything "technically illegal" but are "epitomizing legal corruption."
Would you consider reinstating and fully funding a Moreland Commission that did not include any elected officials as members?
(4) Guns and gun control:
Governor Cuomo, with the help of liberal Dems and moderate Republicans, passed the NY SAFE Act, which includes a host of changes to New York's gun laws, including ammunition limitations, more background checks, increased penalties for gun crimes (including those impacting first responders), and tries to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses. It also touches on Internet sales, the permitting process and school safety.

The SAFE Act has been widely derided by legal experts, police departments, fraternal police organizations, gun clubs, politicians in office an out, just about all of the 62 county legislatures in the state, and many ordinary New Yorkers. At the same time, even strongly pro-gun folks can find agreement with much of what's included in the law, as we all can disagree with the heavy-handed method in which the law was passed.

In addition, many counties have a significant backlog in the processing of handgun permits, which some feel is one more violation of their 2nd Amendment rights (on top of the SAFE Act itself).
Explain your position on gun control, and what if anything would your administration would do with the SAFE Act -- leave it alone, scrap it and start over, or modify it?  Please provide details if you would make changes to or scrap the current program. 
I keep thinking of other questions, but I have to save some for whoever ends up facing Rob Astorino.

Overall, I see many areas where Teachout and I share positions, and some where we don't. I like that we have a choice, and I'm a firm believer in the primary process.  I just wish our current governor was more of a believer.

I'll keep you posted on any responses I receive.