WAMC's Alan Chartock speaks with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 19, 2021.
Chartock: Here we are with Governor Cuomo, Governor, I know this is your show. You're the one who I'm interviewing, but I got to tell you, I've never seen anything like Trump. I think he's brought this country closer to fascism than anybody I have ever heard about, read about historically. What's your sense as we come out of this nightmare?
Cuomo: Well, I'll tell you, Alan, as terrible and as frightening as it was to watch. I don't know that it's not the best punctuation of what he represents, in some ways. I think all the ugliness that was on display, I hope this country watched it, and I hope they understood it. And this is really the result of four years of his division, his narcissism. His anger, his polarizing people, dividing people, spewing hate. And this is what the ugliness that hate begets. And that is his legacy. Two impeachments, anarchy at the Capitol, racism. That's what he brought this nation and it was graphic and ugly, but I hope we learned from it.
Chartock: Okay, so following up on that you've been, of course, an attorney general, the cabinet secretary and a governor, and much more and Mario's son to complete it. So I want to ask you something, a rule of law question. If in fact, Cy Vance, the state attorney general and the city district attorney, the State Attorney General, Letitia James... let's say they can prove that he has broken the law, the state law and the city laws, should he go to jail?
Cuomo: Oh, I think if they have a case on the state law, and they bring the case and, they win the case, yeah. You know, you're not above the law. First of all, he's going to be a private citizen. And a criminal statute, he's not going to be immune from criminal prosecution. So if they have a case and he broke the law, he goes to jail. That's why I think that they were talking about considering prospective pardons. I'm gonna prospectively pardon me for anything that I get convicted of. That's a really great concept, isn’t it? You're going to the confessional, forgive me father for I have sinned her are my past sins, but by the way, I'd like a blank check going forward.
Chartock: I'd like something for the future too. Okay, so one of the things... One of the things we're hearing about is 100 pardons now. And the name that is being speculated about in our country's best newspapers is Sheldon Silver. Now, you know, silver very well, I must have interviewed him 100 times on WAMC over the years. Do you, down in the pit of your stomach? What are you thinking about this?
Cuomo: Well, look, the whole... It's just confounding right, four years of bizarre, when it couldn't get any more crazy. On what theory would Trump even know a Sheldon Silver and what possible connection or rationale? It's almost as if he's trying to purposely create anarchy and desecrate the entire system on the way out the door, Alan, you know, he's making a mockery of everything. "I have the pardon power." Okay. Who knows anyone who I could possibly Pardon? I mean, I don't... it's everything it's executive orders, lifting travel bans. I mean, he's just making a mockery of the system. He really is. He never understood the... He never appreciated government. He never respected government. He never said, “This is why I want to be President. Here's my vision. Here's where I want to lead.” It was all negative. It was all critical. It was appealing to the worst instincts and that's how he's leaving.
Chartock: Governor, you have always... You've done a lot of pardons in your time, clemencies, pardons. I don't want to use the word like a lot, but you've done them certainly. What considerations do you have? You know, you asked the question, "What could he be thinking with Silver?" I'm thinking that he's gonna do some very despicable things with his family and others, and therefore he needed to have a Democrat in there. And that's why he did it, but maybe I'm wrong.
Cuomo: I don't even search for a rationale or any morality, you're assuming or rationale. I don't believe there's always logic. I don't know that it's that premeditated. It could just be a favor for some contact, a favor for someone in the Jewish community, a favor for a donor. Who knows what it is? He doesn't need a logical explanation for his actions. We learned that. I mean its supposed to be about fairness and justice and a person has redeemed themselves, shown behavior while they've been incarcerated and got an education, they helped other people. Just, this is not what a pardon was all about, obviously.
Chartock: Yeah. Well, it's unbelievable. You just delivered your budget address this morning. I know that for those of us who listened or read the news, what's the thing that jumps out of the budget that you think most New Yorkers should know?
Cuomo: The thing about this budget is, we can't do a budget because we don't control the numbers. This budget is wholly dependent on one number and that number comes from Washington. It's a $15 billion deficit, deficit caused by COVID. And the question is, what do we get from Washington in terms of aid? And what I really did Alan or what I tried to do was I laid out the case for New York. It reminded me of my attorney general days. I was arguing the case for aid for New York. Now Joe Biden put in what's called state and local aid. In his plan, American Rescue Plan. $350 billion. It now goes to the Senate and the House, and they're going to take that $350 billion proposal and they're going to cut it up like a large pie. How much does California get? How much does Ohio get? How much does Florida get in New York get? My point was, New York, by any fair metric should be at the top of the list, because two reasons; number one, we paid the highest cost for COVID. We got hit here by COVID before any other state. We got blindsided. It was caused by federal negligence. If these were private corporations, we would sue the federal government for gross mishandling of the Coronavirus. They thought it was still in China three months later was coming here from Europe. They never knew. And we've been a political piñata for Trump for four years. They passed SALT, they stopped our International Commerce with Trusted Traveler Program, they politically interfered with all the normal federal approvals, most Medicaid rate reimbursement in the nation. New York should come first when you're dividing up to 350 billion and we should a fair amount. Modest fair is 15 billion. And that's the case I argue today. If we get $15 billion from Washington, we will be able to do what we need to do to pay for COVID and stabilize society, move people forward and we can start out relaunch. I did a four part State of the State this year that is different than any other State of the State with very specific plans. Green Energy leader, reopen the economy with testing, arts and culture, infrastructure. Very specific detailed plans, where we could really do great things and use this crisis and flip it and find the opportunity. But it has to start with getting the fair share from Washington. And just because... And one other point.
Cuomo: My point was look, you guys just got elected President Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and they didn't just get re-elected, but re-elected the speaker. The country asked to change direction, undo the damage that Trump did. You know, from our point of view Trump is gone. But the Trump legacy continues. The Trump damage continues. SALT remains. The COVID pain remains. They have to fix that.
Chartock: Yes. Okay. That's the first question I wanted to ask you here. You mentioned SALT. What about it? Is there a chance in your opinion, now that the democrats have the President and the two houses, that we could change SALT back to the old way and let people deduct their state and local taxes?
Cuomo: Alan, how not? I showed all the statements they made when SALT passed. Every one of them, they all said the same thing. "This was terrible." "This was political." "This has got to be reversed." "It was stealing from New York." "It was double taxation." Democrats and Republicans, they all said the same thing. Okay, well, now you're in power. Now you're holding the control. Fix it. Fix it. You ran for office. I run for governor saying, "This is terrible. I would change it." Okay, I win. Okay, now you say "fine change it." because that's what you said. And that's $12 billion to New York, that in and of itself would be more than anything they're talking about in this release package. So that's $12 billion dollars every year to New Yorkers.
Chartock: Let me ask you this. Have you talked to Chuck Schumer about this? I assume...
Chartock: The senator, you know, he's out there. He's out front there. You said "Yes" please, go ahead.
Cuomo: Yes. Look, he's senator from New York. And we're lucky to have him as the majority leader. He's also leader of a conference, right? So the dynamic is, yes, he wants to deliver for his home state but he also has other senators from other states. So when they go to chop up that $350 billion pie, he has to please the other senators also. And that's why I was laying out the case for New York, because I wanted to say, Senator Schumer... to just, when he goes to argue for New York, he's got the strongest argument. He doesn't have to say, "Do New York a favor." He doesn't have to say "I'm a conference leader, I want to ask for more than any other state." He can say, "On the merits. New York deserves this." No state paid the price that we did, no state, they didn't even know what COVID was when it was here. We were all alone. And in truth Alan, the other states watched us and had the benefit of our experience. We were the laboratory experiment and the rest of the country and the rest of the world watched us. They will watch those briefings. Why? Because we were the first one through the tunnel. And they watched us. They could learn from the pain that we went through. Now, whether or not they learned is a different question. But they had notice. They saw the full trajectory. We didn't have any of that benefit. We were blindsided. The assault was an avalanche. We were walking along and the COVID avalanche collapsed on us. We went from like the first case, to hundreds of cases in days. People were dying. Nobody even knew what it was. That's the price that New York paid
Chartock: Staying with COVID for a moment, Governor, if I may? I'm getting a lot of telephone calls from people who are saying they're completely frustrated. You know, we're dealing with a life and death matter here. As you know, all too well. You've mentioned it. And people are sitting by the computers. I know one woman sits by her computer for 20 hours, and just looks for any way to get a shot. And what do you say to those people, you know, now, in terms of getting some relief?
Cuomo: They're right, it's chaos caused by the federal government. Do you realize what they did here? They opened eligibility, 65 plus, plus all the other priority categories, health care workers, police, etc. That's about 7 million New Yorkers. That's about 50% about, of our entire eligible population. 50%. Except they never increase the supply of the dosages. Secretary Azar the HHS Secretary says "I'm going to send all the dosages I had in reserve, and now there's going to be more supply. And that's why we're opening eligibility" Except they didn't send any more supply, we get 250,000 doses per week. Seven million people are trying to get the vaccine and we only get 250 a week. I have more of a distribution system than we have product. I have now 1200 distributors, okay. Local governments, hospitals, pharmacies, 1200. They have no product. You can call pharmacies and they say "I'm out. Out. I'm out. Everybody's out."
Chartock: So what should my friend do? She wants to, she wants to get the shot. She doesn't know where to go. She's close to tears, to be honest with you. And, she thinks he's gonna die. If she doesn't get this. What should she do?
Cuomo: She has to hold on a while longer. Biden has said that he's going to increase supply. There's a number of ways to increase supply. Pfizer says they're going to increase supply production. Modernasays there's only an increase in production, the Johnson & Johnson vaccination is one shot, which is a big difference. The other ones are two shots. Fauci says it could be approved in two weeks. There's an AstraZeneca vaccine that could be approved in a couple of weeks. I have more of a distribution system, then we have supply. Is that good or bad? I am anticipating the increased supply. So I ramped up the distribution system. First of all, because they told me I was going to get more supply. But the distribution system is ready. As soon as the product comes. We have the distribution system but I need the product.
Chartock: So did you get a shot yet Governor?
Chartock: You know, you said at one point rather remarkably, and I've just quoted you in a column about not taking the shot until people on the lower end of the social spectrum or the economic spectrum may have had their chances. You didn't use those words, of course, but it's admirable. But you know, we're dealing with the possibility of dying. So I’m surprised. Certainly the governor could have had one if he wanted to do.
Cuomo: Yeah, I understand what the, you know, the Congress all got vaccinations. The congressional staff got vaccinations. I understand that statement and I understand the rationale, and I'm not being critical of it. I want to make the other statement. I want to make this statement that every life is valuable. You’re a governor. Big deal. You know, I'm a bus driver. I'm a carpenter. I'm a senior citizen who's sitting at home. Their life is just as valuable as my life. By the way, I'm black. I'm poor. I don't have a fancy doctor at a fancy hospital. Who's going to get me a dosage?
Cuomo: I’m going to go, I'm getting mine when my age group is open. And when it's being distributed in public housing, in Buffalo and the Bronx. And I that's when I'm going. When poor, black, Latino, public housing 63 year olds go, that's when I go.
Chartock: Governor, why aren't you going to the inauguration?
Cuomo: This will sound familiar to you, I hope. It's one of the best traits. People elected me. And they pay me every day to be governor of the state of New York. And I'm supposed to be here. If God forbid anything is happening, this is my post.
Chartock: Sounds familiar.
Cuomo: Yeah. There were reports that say, there may be demonstrations, etc. With this extrapolating from what happens in Washington and Inauguration Day that anti-democratic forces, the Trump forces are planning demonstrations at capitals, and I don't I take a little different than my father. My father wanted to be in the state, as you know. I take it the next step, I think where I have no problem calling public servants to do dangerous duty, if that's what's required. But I don't like to call anyone out if I'm unwilling to put myself in the same situation. So Hurricane Sandy, I'm on the ground in any situation that I ask anyone to be in. There's a flood and I call out the National Guard, I go to wherever I asked them to go. I just feel more comfortable that way. I'm asking you to put yourself in a dangerous situation. I'm not an armchair general. That's not who I am. I will stand next to you. Wherever I asked you to go.
Chartock: Governor, I'm running out of time here. I'm already running out of time here. So I want to get as much in as I can. Gambling, there is a question as to whether the state should be in charge or whether the gambling establishments themselves should be if we're doing things like sports bettingor other things. Your point is?
Cuomo: My point is, this is about making money and preventing fraud. One proposal is let the casinos run it, and the casinos will make money and then you charge the casino taxes, right. My proposal is, forget the casinos running it. Why do I need the casinos to make money? Let the state run it through a vendor. But there's 10s of millions of dollars to be made. The state should make that money. I’m not in the business of making the casinos more money.
Chartock: What do you mean to a vendor? Who becomes the vendor?
Cuomo: It's like the state lottery, you know, the state lottery, we run the state lottery, right? Casinos don't run those numbers. We run those numbers. So we can get a company, a gaming company, let them manage it. But all the profit goes to us rather than to 10 casinos or 15 casinos. I'm not here to make the casinos a lot of money.
Chartock: But they got lobbyists. Right, Governor? I'm sorry for being so pushy here.
Cuomo: Oh, yeah. No, no. They're lobbyists so I say, say follow the money, follow the money. Because it's not about the policy.
Chartock: Oh, and marijuana. Let's talk about that for a second. We've talked about that virtually every time we met. The question now is, are we finally going to get it? Or is it going to be something that stops passage this time, of like where the revenues from that go?
Cuomo: I think we pass it. It’s about $350 million. We set aside about $130, I believe for what's called the social equity fund. But we need the funding. And I think needing the funding will get us past the bumps in the road that have stopped it in the past and then you can move to New York.
Chartock: Right. I could move there.
Cuomo: Because now it's legal here.
Chartock: Yeah, I've never smoked marijuana in my life. But of course, the question is, you're quite right. We see New York license plates, as I've mentioned many, many times, and we thank you, Governor over here in Massachusetts, because we're the closest thing to the border. And boy do they come in. Boy, there are a lot of them in Great Barrington now, where I live, and there is there is certainly that. You wrote a book earlier. I have a copy of it here. I've certainly read parts of it. I read parts of it.
Cuomo: It’s been two months. You couldn’t read one book?
Chartock: Well, I read a lot of books, but it's a matter of priorities. So there was…
Cuomo: You’re so mean to me. You really are.
Chartock: So the question is the book was quite clear about, you know, how you approach it, what leadership was all about. And, you know, it's a very admirable thing. But on consideration, considering the fact that we had so much, you know, that it came back with such a vengeance, do you think the book was premature?
Cuomo: No, the book, the book was precisely for that reason. The book was, look what happened in the spring, learn the lesson, because there's going to be a second wave and it is going to come back. It doesn't disappear magically. I'll tell you something else. Right now I'm going to make a prediction, I will make you a wager.You see all these new strains? There's a UK strain there’s now a South African strain, there’s a Brazilian strain. And by the way, we've been just as incompetent with those strains. You know how they blew it the first time. And it came here from the UK, they blew the second time, they blew the third time, they blew the fourth time it came from the UK, again, a new strain and they missed it. It came from South Africa. And they have done no travel ban, etc., Brazil, no travel ban, etc. The same mistake over and over and over. And I'll make another prediction. Therewill be a strain that defeats this vaccine. And then we're going to have to scramble to come up with a new vaccine, less of a scramble than the first time. But that's what the viruses do they mutate. That was the 1918 pandemic. That's why it came back worse the second time because it mutated. And the antibodies didn't work from the first one. This is not over. And the book was learn the lessons from COVID one, so you don't repeat them in COVID two, and that was the point. And we did repeat them in COVID two and COVID three and COVID four.
Chartock: Okay, let me ask you this. What happens if the COVID relief package doesn't get through the Congress before the New York State Budget deadline of April 1? Then what do you do?
Cuomo: Don't even think about it. I don't want even think about that possibility.
Chartock: You have to. That's your job. I demand you think about it.
Cuomo: I’ll think about it.
Chartock: Okay, you'll think about it. Okay, so are there any other possibilities for revenue raising here?
Cuomo: No. This tax increase, which the legislature's proposal, had a fascinating conversation with a legislator the other day, he says to me, well, we want to make sure we have the highest income tax in the nation because that's what New York should do. We should tax the highest earners more than any other state. I should really? I said who has a higher tax than us? California. Now, we're at about 8.8. California has like a 10. I said yes. Except that's not really our tax rate. Most of the millionaires, high wage earners are in New York City. New York City has a 5% income tax. So it's really eight, our eight, state eight, and then five. So it's really more like 13. So we are the highest in the nation already.
Chartock: And the legislator said?
Cuomo: Well, I didn't understand that that happens, that the city taxes on top. Yes, the city taxes on top, and the conversation ended there. But if we raised to the highest, we raise our income tax, which is already the highest in the nation higher the way the legislature's talking, that's about $1.5 billion, $1.5 billion out of a $15 billion gap.
Chartock: I know I've been interrupting you. I know I've been interrupting you, but I have a very mean, news director, Ian Pickus, who's in charge of this. And he told me if you're not out in you know, by 58 minutes after well, then you're fired. So, so we're done.
Cuomo: I thought we had two minutes. Where are the other two minutes?
Chartock: Well, they're gone. And I appreciate you're being there. Will you please say hello to Captain the dog, you know, a very important member of the Cuomo family. And please come back again because we love doing these interviews. Thanks again.
Cuomo: Thank you Doctor. Bye.