Andrew Cuomo: The Progressives' Next Best Hope?

The country has just dodged the bullet of Hillary Clinton as President; the Trump inauguration hasn't even happened yet; and already the forces of progressivism are looking for their next best hope.  Yet all of the prominent names that come immediately to mind look like they'll be ready for the old folks home by 2020, if not well before:  Bernie Sanders (75 now/79 in 2020); Joe Biden (74/78); Elizabeth Warren (a "kid" at 69/73); or Hillary herself (also 69/73).  Surely there must be someone younger!

Thankfully the New York Times today is ready with the answer to progressive prayers in a front page article headlined "Andrew Cuomo Raises His Profile, Stirring Talk of a 2020 Run."   By the lights of Pravda, it's hard to think of a better guy than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to take charge of the country in the next cycle.  First, of course, he's the very face of youth: he just turned 59 in December, which means he'll still be clinging to 62 at the time of the next election.  Plus, he checks literally every box that the progressive pooh-bahs want to see checked: he's a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, deeply steeped in the New York groupthink; he gets all of his news from Pravda itself; he has never had an opinion on any subject of significance not in perfect alignment with Pravda's editorial page; he deeply believes that the taxpayer money is free and that all human problems can be solved with some more government spending; and, he is a scion of Democratic Party aristocracy, as son of ex-governor Mario and once married to a Kennedy.  How much to be preferred are the known quantities from the dynastic families rather than those tiresome outsiders!  Surely, Cuomo is the perfect candidate!  (The Times article does note that Cuomo himself has not encouraged talk of his candidacy in 2020.  But come on, that's what they all do!)

So I thought that Manhattan Contrarian readers, particularly those from places remote from New York, might be interested in exactly what initiatives our governor has been talking up lately to "raise his profile."  Two big ones have been featured in the headlines in the opening days of the new year:  (1) a "free college for the middle class" plan, and (2) a plan to close our local nuclear power plant, Indian Point.  I'll consider them one at a time.

Free college.  Cuomo canceled the traditional year-opening "State of the State" speech this year, in favor of a series of speeches to be given at locations around the state.  The first of the speeches was a week ago, January 3, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.  Here is a picture of Cuomo delivering that speech:

Cuomo Free College Speech

And as you can see, "tuition-free college for New York's middle class" was the big proposal in this speech.  Yes, that is none other than "Mr. Free College" himself, Senator Bernie Sanders, who showed up to sit at Cuomo's side during the speech.  (The other guy is former New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate -- and current CUNY Board Chair -- Bill Thompson.)  Here's a blurb on the proposal from Cuomo's official website:

Under this groundbreaking proposal, more than 940,000 middle class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year would qualify to attend college tuition-free at all public universities in New York State. The Excelsior Scholarship program will ensure that students statewide, regardless of their socio-economic status, have the opportunity to receive a quality education and gain the skills they need to succeed in our global economy.

But, you ask, doesn't New York already have extensive programs in place to pay for college for its lower-income citizens?  Yes, it does.  The two big ones are the "Tuition Assistance Program" (TAP) and the "Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness" program.  Between the two of those, they basically pay the full tuition and then some for any New York resident going to a state or city college and with a family income up to about $80,000.  This web site has a handy calculator to tell you how much TAP you are entitled to based on your family income and the amount of annual tuition at your school.  For example, I put in a family income of $60,000 and tuition at your school of $6000, and I get an estimated TAP award of $5500.  $6000 is the approximate amount of annual tuition at the schools in the State University of New York system.  If in addition you took out some loans (for example, to pay room and board), the loan forgiveness program would be on top of the TAP. 

In other words, the new program has next to nothing, if not nothing, to do with providing assistance to the poor, the near-poor, or even those at the middle of the income distribution, all of whom already have their college costs at state colleges covered by pre-existing programs.  (According to the Department of Numbers here, median household income for New York State was $60,850 for 2015, the most recent year available.)  Instead this program is directed to those in the household income range of $80,000 to $125,000, which in very round numbers covers about the 65th to the 85th percentiles of the income distribution

Now, let us ask, how can it possibly make sense to engage in an income redistribution scheme where the recipients of the largesse are well into the upper third to upper fifth of the income distribution?  Aren't the people in that income range the very ones who bear most of the brunt of carrying the cost of government?  The answer is that it doesn't make any sense, and of course the people who think they will be "benefiting" from this government distribution of "free money" are precisely the ones who will be paying -- but with the usual vigorish raked off by the bureaucrats who handle the redistribution.  Well, we all knew that the fundamental characteristic of the progressive is inability to do basic arithmetic.  In the case of Bernie's core supporters of college students, they somehow think of themselves as just poor kids with no income.  Wait until they get that first job, and see the tax bite.  They'll be paying about double, if not more, for the "free" college.  By the time they figure it out, it will be way too late to undo this.

Closing Indian Point.   Indian Point is a large nuclear power plant, located on the banks of the Hudson River about 30 miles north of the New York City line (or about 40 miles north of midtown Manhattan).  It was built in the late 1960s.  It produces about a quarter to a third of the electricity used in New York City.  One of Cuomo's campaign pledges when he was first elected was to close Indian Point, and he has been whipping that horse ever since.  Yesterday he finally announced the imminent achievement of his goal, in the form of an agreement with the plant's operator, Entergy, to close it within four years.  

Among the many evergreen statements on progressive orthodoxy that I make on my ABOUT page, this one is one of my favorites:

[U]sage of energy is a human right, but all actual known methods of producing energy are environmentally unacceptable. . . .

And boy, does that perfectly capture Andrew Cuomo's approach to energy policy!  I don't personally agree with implacable opposition to nuclear energy, but I suppose if someone is seriously worried about the risks, there would be a basis for principled opposition to energy from this source.  But then, where is the energy to come from?  Cuomo is firmly in the camp of insisting that anything that might possibly work is completely unacceptable.  He has totally bowed to the environmental lobby in opposing energy from fossil fuel sources (global warming!!!!), and in adopting the illusion that wind and solar can somehow supply a top-end 21st century metropolis like New York City with the 24/7/365 energy that it needs to operate.  Most famously, in 2014, after several years of dithering, Cuomo banned "fracking" for natural gas within the boundaries of New York State.  He cited "health risks."  Sure.

From the Manhattan Institute today, both Mark Mills and Robert Bryce have some fun ridiculing Cuomo's energy proposals.  Bryce's piece appears in the New York Post here.  Mills' piece appears in Forbes here.  Mills recounts Cuomo's steadfast opposition to all energy that actually works:

New York is apparently going to tilt full on at windmills. What else are we to think now that Governor Cuomo finally got his long hoped-for wish with last week’s announced shutdown of Indian Point? That nuke’s output equals nearly one-third of New York City’s demand. What will fill the gap so that buildings and computers stay lit in one of the world’s great cities after Indian Point goes dark in four short years?  We know what won’t happen. New York won’t build a new nuke, new coal plants, or more pipelines to carry natural gas from the verdant Pennsylvania Marcellus natural gas fields – much less from the energy-rich shale in upstate where fracking is banned.

Mills then goes into some of the obvious problems of trying to use intermittent sources of power like wind to run a city like New York that needs steady, constant, reliable electricity.  Can you just buy wind turbines of the same capacity as the nuclear plant?  It turns out that we already have that -- but the same "nameplate capacity" in wind turbines only generates one-quarter of the electricity as the nuclear plant, because the wind doesn't blow at full strength most of the time:

Data from the New York State grid operator shows that the “nameplate” capacity of all the state’s wind turbines combined is about the same as Indian Point. But that nuke actually produces 4-fold more electricity annually. . . .  So, replacing Indian Point requires increasing NY’s windfarm capacity at least 400 percent. 

But even with four times excess capacity, you still don't get the power when you need it.  How about some batteries!  Mills:

Consider again that Indian Point’s output is equal to one-third of NYC’s use: supplying that one-third for just one day with no wind (let’s hope it’s not calm all day, or for days) means storing one-third of NYC’s daily 145 million kWh of use, or about 50 million kWh in batteries. The world, meaning, mostly Asia, today manufactures batteries (for all purposes) that can store 35 million kWh. So, purchasing about 40 percent of the planet’s entire lithium battery output for the next four years—before Indian Point is slated to be shut—would just about fill the gap.

But can't we have three or even five calm days in a row?  I guess we'd better buy up the entire world production of batteries for the next four years!  And then, a few comments about the potential cost:

And the cost? At least $50 billion in battery systems. [Ed.: Make that $150 billion if you want to prepare for three calm days in a row.]  Maybe NYC could get a volume discount. Add this to the $12 billion for new wind turbines. . . .  Instead, you could build $2 billion worth of natural gas turbines to burn fracked gas to supply the needed power. Or you could provide a few hundred million dollars of incentives to keep Indian Point on line for a couple more decades.

Yup, this Andrew Cuomo guy is really the one for us in 2020!  Perhaps, can we send him for a remedial class in arithmetic in the mean time?

But if you think about it, won't any possible candidate that the Democrats come up with support these same policies?  Yes.  But at least they will also insist on keeping the poor kids trapped in failing schools in order to benefit the teachers union!