Westchester County Executive and New York gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is in the news today for hitting back at Governor Andrew Cuomo over ads the Democrats are running accusing Astorino of racism. The folks at HUD don’t like the way Astorino has stood up to them over zoning laws. In the video below Astorino pointed out that Cuomo lives in his county and never had a problem with the zoning laws until Astorino announced his candidacy. Now suddenly it’s a big issue for the ethically challenged Cuomo.
Astorino also made news with his remarks to the Crain’s New York Business Breakfast. He didn’t pander to the business community, he challenged them. After laying out all that is wrong in this state, he laid at least part of the blame on them, saying “You stand for it.” He went on to note how they always back whichever candidate appears to be winning, and never challenge the winners after they take office. “Whoever gets elected gets the business community’s support in New York. And almost never your criticism — everyone is afraid to offend City Hall, the governor’s office, or state legislative leaders. In elections, as soon as it looks like a winner is emerging from the pack, the money pours into that candidate — regardless of the candidate’s economic views.”
It’s nice to hear someone say that. You can hear it, too. Here’s the video, and the full transcript of Astorino’s speech is below. It’s like a breath of fresh air in this stifling state.
Remarks by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino
Crain’s New York Business Breakfast
New York Athletic Club
April 29, 2014
Good morning everybody.
It’s so nice to be here with you. I really do appreciate your coming. It doesn’t always take bravery to come to a breakfast like this, but today it does — and you deserve credit. I’ve got a bet going with my staff over who saw the guest list for this event first — the NSA, Andrew Cuomo, or Crain’s. My money’s on Cuomo.
I know the governor had a good interview with Crain’s a few days ago. He doesn’t always sit for interviews, but Crain’s is a must. Well, in the spirit of Mr. Cuomo’s interview I want to make one thing clear from the outset this morning: ‘The remarks I make here are MY remarks. MINE. I OWN them. I made them and I can take them away!’
Seriously. I really do appreciate your being here. In fact, your graciousness makes it a little harder to say what I came here to say here this morning.
I know a lot of you are regulars at Crain’s breakfasts. Just about every New York business or political leader has been to these events — or should be coming to them. I’ve been to some over the years, and Crain’s does a terrific job.
But you know what? You always hear the same thing — pretty much. Some elected official stands here and swears up and down how great he or she is for the business community, the audience claps — and then the official gets back to work destroying New York’s economy.
That’s the sad truth. You don’t get to be dead last in this country without working at it. You’ve really got to try. It takes a conscious decision to come in 50th out of 50 in anything, and New York has perfected it to a tee.
As Warner Wolf used to say, ‘Let’s go to the video tape.’
New York State was just ranked by the American Legislative Exchange Council as having the worst economic outlook in America. The worst. Not 25th. Not 45th. Dead. Last. 50th.
New York has the highest property taxes in America. The worst. It has the highest overall tax burden, too. Dead. Last. 50th.
New York is losing more families than any other state — 400,000 people over the past four years alone. They’re leaving in search of jobs and tax relief. Again, dead last 50th.
New York was ranked by the University of Illinois as having the most corrupt state government in America. And now, Moreland — the commission that was supposed to investigate that corruption — has been corrupted itself. Can we get to 51st? Is that possible?
So here’s my beef with the New York business community: You stand for it. I don’t necessarily mean those of you in this room, but the business community as a whole. You have the clout — the power to demand better — yet you reward leaders who, at best, are managing the steady decline of New York.
Whoever gets elected gets the business community’s support in New York. And almost never your criticism — everyone is afraid to offend City Hall, the governor’s office, or state legislative leaders. In elections, as soon as it looks like a winner is emerging from the pack, the money pours into that candidate — regardless of the candidate’s economic views.
New York City arguably just elected the most anti-business mayor in its history, yet many in the business community jumped on his band wagon once they thought he might win. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. It’s suicidal.
Instead of demanding better from elected leaders, we settle for scraps in New York. We send lobbyists to Albany or to City Hall to strike that language out of the bill…to get three or four words added, or to beg for a sunset provision or a legislative carve out.
What the business community doesn’t do is fight, lay down a marker in the sand and say, “here is the line beyond which you must not step. Or here is the hoop you darned well better jump through if you want businesses to stay or new ones to arrive.” No one else can deliver that message like you can, because no one knows better than you what needs to be done to get New York working again. The business community needs to stop being so shy.
God knows the groups in this state who want to drive up taxes and add more business regulations aren’t shy. They spend millions of dollars every year making demands, while the business community stays quiet. Wall Street gets attacked by state and city politicians, just as real estate industry does. And no one says a word. It’s madness.
Instead of fighting, business leaders slowly disengage from New York. You know the routine: First the back office goes to New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Then the front office, with maybe a small satellite address staying here for show. That’s how a state gets to be 50th.
New York was once a state that refused to settle for second best, so why are we settling for dead last now? We still have the attributes that made us the envy of the world once — land, waterways, infrastructure, capital, an educated workforce — we have it all.
But what we’re missing — and this is key — is political leaders who are willing to put their necks on the line to fix the problems…political leaders who are willing to LOSE re-election to save this state.
You know how I won re-election by 13 points in Westchester County? By being willing to lose my seat. That’s how I won because that’s how I governed.
‘You can’t ask unions to chip into healthcare, they’ll get you at the polls.’ That’s what I was told. I did it anyway, after chipping in myself for healthcare costs.
‘You can’t make budget cuts. You’ll have organized demonstrators outside your office.’ So be it. I cut my own staff 19% and reduced the overall size of government by 5%.
‘You can’t take a stand against federal government overreach into local zoning. They’ll sue you in court — and slander you in TV ads, like Governor Cuomo started doing to me yesterday. Go ahead. We’ll meet the federal bureaucrats in court because they are being unjust.
These things may not always make good headlines when they happen, but they bring good results, and isn’t that what governing is supposed to be about?
I’m announcing next week my fifth straight year of freezing or cutting the property tax levy in Westchester. Not lowering or capping the increase — actually lowering costs. That doesn’t happen by mistake. It takes work and a steady vision.
Westchester spends less today than it did five years ago. I’m going to say that again, our budget is smaller today than it was when I took office. We’ve saved Westchester taxpayers more than $100 million by consolidating services and departments, cutting waste, and reducing overhead.
To give you some perspective on my approach vs. Governor Cuomo’s, consider this: If Governor Cuomo were to have lowered costs and reduced waste in the state during his first four years in office like I did in Westchester during my first four, New York taxpayers would today be spending $13.7 billion less. That pays for a lot of teachers.
As a result of our fiscal prudence, Westchester has the highest credit rating in New York today — higher than the state’s. It has created about 30,000 new private sector jobs over four years, and it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in New York. I’m proud of that.
But here’s what I’m even prouder of: We’ve saved taxpayers millions while strengthening the social safety net. In areas like child care for the working poor, we are more generous than New York City and we’ve greatly expanded available slots.
But the bills keep coming from Albany. Ask any mayor, county executive, or school board chairman, Democrat or Republican. Albany’s mandates are squeezing the life out of New York, and nothing is being done about it. It’s a chief reason I’m running for governor. In Westchester County today, 85% of our tax levy is driven by Albany mandates. It’s even worse elsewhere.
We all know what the problems are. It’s Medicaid and state pensions mostly. Mayor Bloomberg was one of the few brave voices in this state to talk about the problem of pension costs. When New York City is spending more on trash that was picked up years ago than trash being collected today, we’ve got a problem. But no one is willing to risk the political capital to address it.
Everyone in this room knows that New York needs to switch to a defined contribution plan for new hires — or something that brings equivalent savings — rather than the defined benefit plans we can’t afford. But did you hear anyone talking about that during the Albany budget battle last month? I didn’t. They’re too afraid of having TV ads run against them.
Everyone knows we need to do something to lower our Medicaid costs. At $55 billion, New York is spending more on Medicaid than Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania combined. Yet people in those states seem to be doing okay. They look at least as healthy as we do. Is it possible that we might stick out our necks a little and find some real savings?
You know what’s needed in this state? A little old fashioned tough love. We are dead last in America in taxes and economic outlook because politicians are too terrified to say ‘no’ to anyone. And so the jobs and people keep on leaving. How is that compassion? How does a reduced tax base care for those in need?
We need economic growth, not political cowardice. Take natural gas extraction. New York had better get in the game. Thirty states now allow safe natural gas exploration, and those states are led by both Republicans and Democrats. President Obama supports it, as does the EPA, the Interior Department, and environmental groups. But my God, someone might protest if it’s allowed, so this administration stalls and stalls and stalls.
Re-election comes first; good governance is secondary. You and I need to declare that unacceptable.
I like to say that you need three body parts to be a good leader — and I bet this applies in your work as well. You need a head to do the smart things; a heart to show compassion, but probably more than both of those, you need a spine to stand firmly against the nonsense that seeps into government. I’ve always tried to lead with all three in Westchester, and I’ll do the same in Albany.
No one can stand on this stage and tell you with a straight face that they’ll transform New York from #50 to #1 in taxes or economic outlook or business friendliness in a few years. But I can tell you this: I can make New York — for starters — the most competitive state in the northeast again. And once we get there, we can build on that.
So here’s my challenge to you today. Here’s my challenge to New York’s business community: Step in. Engage. Take a stand — take a risk. Wade farther and deeper into New York politics than you’ve ever waded before and then stay there. Because if you don’t, you’ll be gone in a few years, too, just like thousands of other businesses that have either shuttered or moved to Texas or South Carolina or exotic locales like North Dakota, the fastest growing state in the country. With the exception of the real estate industry that is saddled by brick and mortar, everyone here can pick up and go.
It’s the conversation we hear every day — at the water cooler, at the barbershop, at the hairdresser’s: ‘Three more years and I’m out of here. Once the kids finish school, we’re heading south” — or west or north. Anywhere but here. People now speak about living in New York like its some kind of prison sentence. That’s not okay.
Alabamians used to say ‘thank God for Mississippi,’ because Mississippi always ranked at least a notch lower than they did in some survey. Well now they all say “Thank God for New York.” All of them.
Is that okay with you? Because it’s not alright with me.
I’m staying here and I’m fighting. It’s why I’m on this stage this morning. Regardless of your political affiliation, I ask that you join me in that fight. I refuse to accept that the Empire State is shrinking — that New York is now at the bottom of the heap in this country. I don’t want to be telling my children and grandchildren about what New York once was, and I’m sure you don’t either. But that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t act in an urgent and serious way. We’re number 50, and still its business as usual in this city and state.
So today, I am calling on the New York business community to redouble its efforts to save New York. To make noise; to run ads of its own to compete with the special interests. To stand up and fight with me.
The business community built this state. It can save it now, or it can flee, joining the millions of other who have already left. It’s up to you.