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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/15/17

Cuomo Wants to Privatize Penn Station; That's a Bad Republican Idea

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From Our Future

New Yorkers face a "summer of hell" as Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie seek to hand over the city's historic Penn Station to private investors. This "hell" is the result of our leaders' "bipartisan" reluctance to invest in needed government infrastructure.

Donald Trump is working with his fellow Republicans in Congress to enact a "privatization" program that could become the largest giveaway of public resources to private corporations in our nation's history. (See Part 1 of this privatization series.)

Why wouldn't they? Republicans claim to hate "big" government, and privatization -- the dismantling of government and giveaway of publicly owned resources to corporate interests -- has been a core part of the Republican agenda for years. Unfortunately, a number of corporate-friendly Democrats have also embraced the idea.

The latest Democratic politician to embrace privatization is New York's Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo recently introduced a joint proposa l with his Republican counterpart in New Jersey, the scandal-plagued Christie, to privatize Penn Station.

In a joint letter, the two governors have asked that the station be taken away from Amtrak and given to private investors or corporate interests. They wrote:

"As Amtrak's management of Penn Station continues to produce multiple failures, we believe systematic changes cannot wait. A professional, qualified private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire operation going forward."

Cuomo also made his case to Donald Trump. "...I know that you believe in privatization where appropriate," Cuomo wrote to Trump, "and in this situation I think there is no doubt that it is appropriate."

The Real Story

Unfortunately, Cuomo and Christie are giving the public a misleading impression by leaving out an important part of the story. Republicans have been cutting Amtrak's budget since the George W. Bush administration, without regard for public need or public safety.

Congress passed a $242 million budget cut in 2015 just days after a deadly crash capped a year-long series of lethal train accidents, many could be tied to decaying railroad infrastructure. Trump's budget proposal includes additional deep slashes to the railroad's finances.

This is how privatization advocates work: First they cut funding for vital government programs. Then they issue a complaint like the one in the letter written by Cuomo and Christie: ""Amtrak's management of Penn Station continues to produce multiple failures."

It would be more accurate to blame those failures on unexpected surges in ridership over recent decades, and a failure to budget appropriately for increased demand.

"The Governor of Wall Street"

In demonizing a government program, Cuomo is betraying his party's New Deal tradition. Progressives should stand in opposition to the budget cuts that lead to "multiple failures." These cost jobs, reduce access to affordable transportation and put passengers at risk. Instead, Cuomo -- who is positioning himself as a leader of the "Resistance" -- has joined the Republican chorus of attacks on an important government institution, and on the capabilities of government itself.

It shouldn't be surprising that Cuomo is cozying up to Trump and the Republicans on this critical issue. Cuomo, who has been called "the Governor of Wall Street," is reportedly close to Wall Street billionaire John Mack. "I think the governor's already plugged into Wall Street," Mack told a reporter in 2014. "He knows all the C.E.O.s, he knows most of the chairmen of each board ..."

Cuomo also appointed real-estate mogul Steve Roth to an advisory panel charged with overseeing Penn Station's privatization. As David Sirota reports, Roth and his wife donated $95,000 to Cuomo's campaign, several months after Roth's firm Vornado was one of three firms chosen to "a new 255,000 square foot Train Hall to house passenger facilities for the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak," as a Cuomo press release put it.

Clinton's Privatization Call

In pushing for privatization, Cuomo is following in a centrist/corporate Democratic tradition that dates back to Bill Clinton's ascendancy to party leadership. In his 1992 acceptance speech for the party's presidential nomination, Clinton broke with his party's New Deal tradition when he said that "big bureaucracies, both private and public (have) failed too."

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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