Monday, 5 December 2011

Liberal new York, ah yes

We sail upon a sea of blue here in the Empire State, but underneath that satisfied self-image of diversity, tolerance and sophistication is a rather brutal class society and often a painfully corrupt one. Our new governor, Andrew Cuomo, reflects this paradox neatly in his highly ambitious person (2016 is only four years away, wink wink).

Cuomo pulled together diverse forces on the same-sex marriage fight and helped persuade some Republican state senators to break ranks and support it, a remarkable feat and a highly lucrative one as his campaign war-chest balloons with all that grateful gay cash. He was rightly lionized at the PRIDE events in June, but his achievement only demonstrates that rich people can be both open-minded and stingy.

The recession has clobbered the state’s accounts, and while Cuomo slashes spending on all fronts, he has refused so far to even contemplate extending the so-called ‘millionaires tax’ that would provide the state a sorely needed additional $5 billion, or just about enough to cover two years’ deficits. Cuomo trots out the lame excuse that higher taxes will cause the comfy to flee to neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey, which is just silly.

One area that is getting slammed, as usual, is public transport. The city’s subway system receives about half of its operating and capital budget from Albany, without which a ticket would be $5 instead of the current $2.50. After the collapse of the system during the bankruptcy of the 1970s, New York bounced back and made the trains safe and pleasant to ride again. It was a key element in the city’s renaissance, so often attributed solely to the get-tough policing associated with Giuliani.

My very hip bicycling/urban policy group, Transportation Alternatives, reports in this month’s magazine that Cuomo has barely spoken to transit authorities and seems wedded to the Clintonian-centrist idea that viable Democratic candidates for national office have to act like Republicans. That means refuse to tax rich people and to starve public services. This approach has made Obama so popular among his natural base that a worldwide Occupy movement sprang up comprised of indignant youth. But the blind faith in this failed strategy persists.

Across the Hudson, Governor Christie (the fat one) stirred up major poo by canceling the planned tunnel under the river that would have alleviated commuting for his residents. Some people hated it, some people loved it; but at least New Jersey residents now have a clear choice.

We should be so lucky. Now we have a cost-cutting, millionaire-coddling ‘liberal’ governor who will be opposed by cost-cutting, billionaire-coddling ‘conservatives’. The subway system and in the long run the city itself will suffer, but don’t expect these short-sighted pols to offer us a real alternative. Austerity is the new religion, and all must bow down before its mighty banker-popes.

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