Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino spent a large portion of a speech Thursday blasting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo following a series of policy announcements from the governor to start the year.
Astorino called various Cuomo plans, and the rationale behind them, “fake news,” a term first used to describe outlandish news stories published during the 2016 presidential election. During a 15-minute speech at the Westchester County Association breakfast in Tarrytown, Astorino focused largely on state issues and possible impacts in the county.
He first questioned the governor’s plan to offer free college tuition for students from families making under $125,000 per year.
“It doesn’t get any more fake than that,” said Astorino, a Republican who ran against Cuomo for governor in 2014. “Somebody has to pay and that somebody is us.”
Then it was on to Cuomo’s proposal for local property tax relief. At a speech at SUNY Purchase College on Tuesday, the governor criticized the 425 local governments in Westchester that he said drive up costs for taxpayers. He proposed a plan that would require county leaders to convene meetings with local municipalities to find ways to pool resources and cut costs.
Or, as Astorino described it Thursday, “Cutting costs by holding Soviet-style referendums in our communities.”
Astorino said Cuomo is unfairly blaming local government when only $1 billion of the $4 billion in annual state income tax revenue comes back to counties and 77 percent of county property tax dollars pay for Albany’s unfunded mandates.
“Without any authority,” Astorino added, “the governor is demanding that I and other elected officials put people in a room, make them come up with a plan to cut services and then force residents to keep voting on that plan until they pass it.”
“Comrades, welcome to New York,” Astorino said, imitating a Russian accent.
The county executive continued his criticism of the agreement to shut down the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear plant in Buchanan. He stressed the significant tax dollars the plant provides to the village of Buchanan, town of Cortlandt and Hendrick Hudson School District.
“Also unknown is whether there is any realistic basis to believe any other source will be available to replace Indian Point by the time it closes in four short years,” Astorino said. “The energy supplied by Indian Point is not only clean but extremely reliable.”
He announced plans for a town hall meeting in Cortlandt on Jan. 25 to further discuss the impact of the plant’s closure.
Aside from his criticism of the governor’s office, Astorino used his speech to point to positive developments in Westchester. He cited the 188-unit Harbor Square luxury apartment building in Ossining, a recent expansion in the county by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and plans by The Dannon Co. Inc. to moves its U.S. headquarters to White Plains. While a proposal to build a Wegmans grocery market in Harrison is still in the approval process, Astorino cheered the Rochester-based chain’s plan to build here and said he met with the company in March to pitch Westchester.
He also spoke in support of President-elect Donald Trump, while acknowledging the Republican candidate didn’t perform well at the polls in Westchester.
“By all means, hold our elected leaders accountable,” Astorino said. “But let’s give them a chance, especially when they’re just assuming office.”