Early indications are that Gov. Cuomo’s agenda for the new Democrat-controlled Legislature centers on handing the left lots of victories that don’t bust the budget.
That won’t make them cost-free: Protecting the gov’s claims to be a fiscal conservative only requires (some) restraint when it comes to actual state spending.
Team Cuomo started off right after Election Day, as the gov’s counsel, Alphonso David, told immigration advocates to expect legislation authorizing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
There’s a policy case to be made here: It might mean fewer unsafe drivers on the road. But it may also mean problems for everyone who can currently get a license.
To license people who lack key legal documents, the state will have to lower the bar for proof of identity. That will necessarily make New York licenses a “softer” form of ID: This may mean that you’ll need a passport or other “hard” ID to board planes and so on — and you may also have a harder time getting a passport in the first place.
Plus, the added expense will be a higher burden on lower-income people.
Similarly, the gov is now vowing to end vacancy decontrol — that is, to kill the provision that lets an apartment escape the rent-stabilization regime when it turns vacant if the rent is already $2,733.75.
Advocates complain that the 24-year-old “loophole” has seen 150,000 rent-regulated units moved to market rate, and insist the change will be a big win for tenants. That’s doubtful: The perverse impact of rent control is a major reason why housing in the city is so outrageously expensive.
And, of course, not many low-income New Yorkers live in places that rent anywhere close to $2,700, anyway.
But the harm from rent control isn’t obvious and it doesn’t cost the state a dime.
The new year will also surely see passage of the Reproductive Health Act, a measure to codify Roe v. Wade in state law. That much is entirely symbolic — New York legalized abortion long before the Roe decision came down and would keep it legal even if Roe were overturned.
State law on this front is already so liberal that, to find somewhere to expand “abortion rights,” the bill’s authors had to reach all the way to letting nurse-midwives perform abortions. Wise or not, it’ll be a “pro-choice” win.
Meanwhile, Cuomo plainly has given up on the legal-pot front. He once called marijuana a “gateway drug”; he took great pains to ensure that New York’s medical-marijuana law only covered medicinal uses. But his Health Department is already issuing reports to clear the way for straight legalization — even suggesting it could generate up to $678 million in tax revenue.
The gov also surely will smile on most voting reforms that the left likes: Expect the Empire State to see early and easy-absentee voting, just for starters.
Cuomo may even at long last move to push through new restrictions on political donations and even statewide public funding of campaigns. After all, he’s long said he supports such changes, even as he worked the existing system to his advantage. Now that he’s unlikely to run for office in New York again, he’ll be happy to embrace “reform.”
All these changes to the voting and campaign laws are likely to empower not just Democrats, but the party’s left — which is a big reason why they’re such a priority for progressives. Once, that would’ve been a deal-killer for Andrew Cuomo — but with his eyes on the White House, all the rules have changed.
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