Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2021 State of the State Address has been scheduled for Monday, January 11. Due to the coronavirus, the address will be delivered in a virtual setting. On January 6, the Governor offered a preview of some of the proposals he intends to unveil during his address.
Gov. Cuomo noted that state government is experiencing fiscal difficulties in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; the New York Post reports that the state must close an estimated $15 billion gap in the upcoming 2021-2022 budget. While the Governor and others hope that President-elect Joe Biden and his congressional allies will bail the state out, the amount of federal aid that New York may receive is up in the air.
Accordingly, Gov. Cuomo has some other ideas for how to address the state’s money problems. Bad ideas.
The Governor’s first bad budget idea is recreational marijuana legalization. When he first entered office back in 2011, Gov. Cuomo opposed the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Now, his flip-flop from opposition to enthusiastic support is complete. According to the state, legalizing the marketing and commercial sale of marijuana is expected to eventually yield $300 million each year in tax revenue. There are three problems with this idea. First, advocates in New York have an unfortunate history of making inflated predictions of tax revenue in an effort to get politicians and voters to swallow controversial proposals (same-sex “marriage” and upstate casinos come to mind). When the expected revenue doesn’t materialize, it’s too late to reverse course and the damage is done. Second, this prediction fails to take into account the very real costs of marijuana legalization. Third, and most importantly, no amount of tax revenue would make it wise or acceptable for the state to promote and profit from the sale of a mind-altering and dangerous drug.
Gov. Cuomo’s second bad budget idea is allowing casinos to offer mobile sports gambling through a partnership with the state. The Governor likens this plan to the state-operated lottery. This is yet another flip-flop. Until recently, Gov. Cuomo opposed mobile sports gambling and asserted that it would not be likely to yield much tax revenue. Governor, you had it right the first time. It is bad enough that we have four Vegas-style casinos in upstate New York. The state does not need to further enrich casino operators, nor does it need to siphon more money out of taxpayers’ pockets by enticing them into addictive behavior.
The truth is that even if these two bad ideas turn out to bring in tax revenue, there is no way that revenue will be enough to close the state’s budget gap. So what’s the point? Perhaps the Governor thinks that if New Yorkers are preoccupied with sports betting or high on marijuana, we won’t notice that our state is in a death spiral.