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Commentary By Nicole Gelinas

Gov's State of Denial

Economics, Cities, Cities New York City

Cuomo offers old, failed ideas

It looks like the state of New York state is: “clean out of ideas.”

Gov. Cuomo’s sophomore State of the State speech yesterday would have been breathtakingly cynical — if he’d given it 15 years ago. Coming in 2012, the speech was cynical and dated.

Cuomo wants to hang New York’s future on one declining industry and one exploitative industry. And he’s doing it more than a decade after other states chased the same bad ideas — and failed.

The governor rightly took credit for his first-year achievements. His victories included delivering a balanced budget, even as he restored integrity and competence in state government. (Plus, though he was too modest to mention it, he didn’t steal anything and he didn’t sleep with any hookers.)

So, it’s a head-scratcher why Cuomo’s big plans for 2012 sound like a parody of other states’ failed schemes.

His first big idea: “We will build the largest convention center in the nation,” he proclaimed. “This will bring to New York the largest events, driving demand for hotel rooms and restaurant meals and creating tax revenues and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

His second big idea: “gaming.” He’ll offer a “comprehensive approach to casino gaming” because it’s an “economic engine.”

In both cases, the facts say otherwise.

On conventions: Since the 1990s, state and local governments desperate for stimulus have spent tens of billions on convention space with little to show for it. States and cities were spending $2.4 billion a year, even as “the overall convention marketplace is declining,” Brookings Institution expert Heywood Sanders noted in 2005. A decade ago, 126 million people went to conventions; last year, it was 86 million.

Cuomo says he wants our convention center to be bigger than Chicago’s? Hah: The Windy City’s center draws just half of the business it could handle, my colleague Steven Malanga has found.

Bizarrely, Cuomo wants to shut the Javits Center and build the space in Queens. No, Javits has never succeeded, but do doctors who want to let their hair down for a weekend want to go to Queens — or to Las Vegas or New Orleans? Those latter cities are good at conventions, and offer warm weather and location that New York won’t. Plus, they’re cheap.

As for the governor’s second big idea, well, it’s telling that he uses the word “gaming,” rather than gambling. Pictionary is a game; casino gambling is a way to suck money from poorer New Yorkers.

“The social costs associated with those persons who become addicted to gambling, as well as the infrastructure costs to nearby communities, far outweigh any financial benefits . . . Even when casinos do well, no state has solved its fiscal problems by the introduction of casinos,” warned Louise Haldeman, a gambling specialist at the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, in 2009 about that state’s plan to legalize casinos.

In “Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey,” she noted, “casinos have not helped. Gambling is a business that drains the economy.”

Cuomo’s logic is downright illogical. He promises that “gaming” will create cash, at least $1 billion. But he notes that New York already has “gaming” — five Indian casinos and 29,000 “gaming” machines. He notes, too, that the state is “surrounded by gaming.”

So . . . existing casinos haven’t saved the state. And we’re not going to get regional tourists from New Jersey, Connecticut or Massachusetts, which recently OK’d casinos. Hmm.

The good news is that Cuomo insists taxpayers won’t pay for these ventures; the magical private sector will. But investors won’t support convention centers and casinos in this economic environment. If they do, they deserve to lose everything.

But the problem is the other losers from the governor’s big ideas — New Yorkers. Like a “gamer” in a windowless arcade, Cuomo has lost the big picture. What this state needs is pension reform and infrastructure investment.

On these topics, Cuomo was brief and vague. He promised some pension fixes — but offered no details. He promised a new Tappan Zee Bridge — but he wants to get 95 percent of the money from the private sector. That won’t happen — and, anyway, building bridges is a place where a progressive governor should push taxpayer funding.

About the MTA, which faces a $9 billion shortfall in its capital-investment plan, the governor said alarmingly little — only that he’ll “work with the Legislature.” He spent five times as much time on solar power as on our critical mass-transit system.

Oh, and he promised education reform — like every other governor in America for the last 20 years.

The most worrisome thing here is that Cuomo has to know that convention centers and “gaming” are dead ends. Yet he insisted that “we have been in a state of denial” about the inevitability of casinos.

“It’s time we confronted reality,” he said. He’d be right — if he were talking about his own speech.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post

This piece originally appeared in New York Post