Cuomo Digs at de Blasio on Real Estate Tax Plan, But Claims No ‘Clear Right or Wrong’

Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio at their joint press conference in Albany. (Photo: Twitter/NYC Mayor's Office)

Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio at their joint press conference in Albany. (Photo: Twitter/NYC Mayor’s Office) Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today continued to rip into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed changes to the state’s 421a tax break for developers—even as he claimed to be undecided on how the program should be reformed, or if it should be reformed at all.

Speaking to reporters after an unrelated event in Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo expanded on remarks yesterday trashing the Mr. de Blasio proposal to alter the controversial tax credit to require greater affordable housing construction while simultaneously lengthening the abatement period from 25 to 35 years. The governor again echoed complaints from building trade unions that the mayor’s plan would not obligate developers to pay prevailing wages to construction workers, wages Mr. de Blasio and the Real Estate Board of New York would be too expensive and would make large scale affordable housing construction unfeasible.

“The workers believe they’re not getting paid a fair wage, or the prevailing wage. And if government is giving subsidies to these rich real estate developers, why isn’t government insisting on a fair wage for the workers on the project? Which is, frankly, a very powerful argument in my opinion,” the governor said, noting that other housing advocates complain that even Mr. de Blasio’s plan would not create enough new low-cost apartments to compensate for the loss of tax revenues. “I don’t think we have to sacrifice the workers to have affordable housing. And I’m not going to give a lucrative giveaway for real estate developers, and shortchange the taxpayers of this state.”

“Let’s look at the tools in the equation. There’s two questions. Are you getting enough affordable units for the taxpayer? Are you getting what you paid for? Or are the taxpayers getting taken for a ride, so some real estate developer can get millions of dollars? Second issue is, are the workers getting paid a fair wage? And why not? So those are two very good questions,” he continued.

Mr. Cuomo repeatedly emphasized that he had served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration—a position in which Mr. de Blasio served under him.

“I was elected to represent all New Yorkers, I want affordable housing, can never say I don’t want affordable housing, I spent my life doing it. I don’t have a problem giving real estate developers a tax break. But I want to make sure we’re getting the fair return for the tax break. I want to protect the workers. It’s why I’m there,” he said.

The governor also continued to chide the mayor for waiting until near the end of this year’s state legislative session to visit Albany and push for changes to the tax break, and for a general strengthening of the city’s rent regulations, which expire next month.

“Look, for an issue this complex and this controversial, I don’t think it is realistic to think you can broach this issue this late in the legislative session, and have a full civil debate,” he said. “You know, the legislative session starts in January. It ends in about, we have like eight days left. So this is a conversation, frankly, that should have started much earlier, if we were going to have a fair resolution by the end of the session, I believe. It’s still possible, but it’s an amazingly difficult resolution.”

Mr. Cuomo also refused to say if he considered Mr. de Blasio’s ambitious plan to create or maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing feasible, and said he did not know if he would speak at a planned rally of building trades workers in Albany next week. He ultimately also refused to take a stance on what, if any, changes the legislature should make to the often attacked 421a tax break, and dismissed Mr. de Blasio’s calls in the capital for him to show “leadership” on the issue.

“It’s not leadership. The mayor says he’s right. The Senate says they’re right. The AFL-CIO says they’re right. The Assembly of the State of New York says they’re right. They can’t all be right. A couple of them have to be wrong,” he said. “They’re being debated, they’re being discussed, is there a clear right or wrong today, as we stand here today? No, not in my opinion.”

Mr. Cuomo nonetheless brushed off a question from a reporter as to whether he was being “gratuitously mean” to the mayor.

“Well, that’s silly, now,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio’s office fired back at the governor with a scathing statement, noting that the Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen met with legislators two weeks ago to discuss the 421a program and rent laws.

“This isn’t a game,” said spokesman Wiley Norvell. “More than two million New Yorkers are depending on stronger rent laws to afford their rent. And tens of thousands of families are demanding an end to tax breaks that don’t give us affordable housing in return. We need leadership. We need results. Not misdirection and evasion.”

The debate over the mayor’s tax break proposal is just the latest in an ongoing feud between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio, but marks a turn toward harsher discharges of rhetoric between the two men, who have always claimed to be friends. It has also found the two politicians apparently trading hats: the fiscally conservative governor, the recipient of copious developer donations and critic of public employee unions, casting himself as the champion of the workers—while the usually labor-aligned mayor finds himself fighting on the same side as REBNY.

Updated to include comment from Mr. de Blasio’s office.