Jobs, Jobs, Jobs? Assessing Cuomo's Economic Development Record

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs? Assessing Cuomo's Economic Development Record

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs? Weighing in on Cuomo's Economic Record
April 28, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is up for re-election this year, and one thing voters will weigh at the polls is his record on the economy. So how did he do?

“My answer would be, at best, mixed,” said E.J. McMahon, the president of the Empire Center for Public Policy. “Job creation since the governor took office matched the federal average for about a year and a half and since then has fallen off the national average. It’s been concentrated almost entirely in downstate, and that part has almost been entirely in New York City, with the other chunk in Long Island, which is partly due to Sandy. Upstate job growth in the last year was absolutely flat, and has been minimal over the last three years.”

McMahon and several other panelists weighed in on Cuomo’s performance on Monday at City & State’s State of Our State conference, which featured panel discussions on job growth and various state-level economic development initiatives, including the Regional Economic Development Councils, the recent tax cut package and Start-Up NY, which eliminates taxes for companies that co-locate and partner with local universities.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who also participated in a panel discussion, sounded a common theme in praising the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, a Cuomo initiative that increases local involvement in selecting projects to fund across the state. But Miner, the outgoing co-chair of the state Democratic Party and an outspoken proponent of greater mandate relief, said that municipalities face more fundamental challenges, including scraping together the funds for basic services and for maintenance of infrastructure like roads, water lines and sewers.

“I think the metaphor I would use is if you’re building a house, the regional council has helped us start to build that house, but my concern and the concern of a lot of local government officials I talk to who are providing services is that foundation is rotting out,” Miner said. “You can’t build a house on a foundation that’s going to run out and expect that that’s going to be sustainable or be anything other than press releases.”

Other panelists were more upbeat about the state’s economic trajectory. Marsha Gordon, the president and CEO of the Westchester Business Council, said that thriving biotechnology and healthcare sectors are bringing jobs to the county. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who was elected last year, touted the rush to site a casino in the county, whose close proximity to New York City has made it an appealing location for potential developers.

“Six months ago, nobody would talk about casinos in Orange County,” Neuhaus said. “We now, as of last week, have over half of the casino applications for a Hudson Valley region or in Orange County. And with that, not only is a developer there, but we have major casino people.”

State Sen. Jack Martins, who last month was named chair of the Senate Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee, said that he would like to do more to help small businesses secure loans in his new role. But overall, he said, the state is moving in the right direction.

“Four years ago, not that long ago as far as things go, we had a $14 billion deficit, we had an economy in decline, we had regions in this state that were literally on the verge of bankruptcy, and we needed some innovation,” Martins said. “Certainly the initiatives that the governor has shown—working with the Legislature—have come a long way. Are there things that still need to be done? I think most of us would agree, yes. But let’s look at where we are and where we were and what we accomplished—not only in terms of providing opportunities for local governments but also in terms of providing real opportunities and tax relief for everyday New Yorkers, businesses, manufacturers, the list goes on and on.”

Of course, there is only so much that a governor can actually do to create jobs and spur economic growth. McMahon said that Cuomo could not simply “walk in and turn on a switch and create jobs,” but that since governors insist on being evaluated on that basis, “then I guess they have to be.”

“I’d say, at worst, well, it could have been worse,” McMahon said. “And I think that the governor has done some very good things, especially the tax caps, and done some other good things—it’s a long list on both sides. The greatest problem I would have is even beyond the normal political boundaries, the governor insists on grossly exaggerating and hyping the possibilities of the things he does. So that Start-Up New York, which is an interesting niche program, becomes the answer to everything. I don’t think that’s the case, and I don’t think it will be.”

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.