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Editorial: Candidates should hash out differences in debates

Editorial: Candidates should hash out differences in debates

Cuomo, Molinaro have significant differences on key issues for New Yorkers
Editorial: Candidates should hash out differences in debates
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and challenger Marc Molinaro

Republican candidate for governor Marc Molinaro says he has a plan to cut local property taxes by 30 percent over the next five years.

To do it, he plans to have the state pay the full share of Medicaid costs that are passed on to counties, make the tax cap permanent, limit the state’s ability to raise state taxes and eliminate the higher tax on millionaires.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Molinaro’s plan a “shell-game sham,” saying you can’t cut local taxes without either raising state taxes or cutting state funding for such important local efforts such as education. On the Medicaid shift alone, the governor said, his opponent’s plan would add $7.6 billion to the state budget.

Another big issue: Molinaro has issued a 30-page plan for reforming the costly and inefficient Metropolitan Transit Authority that includes reducing over-staffing on some big projects, cutting the cost of labor, and cutting waste, fraud and abuse.

Gov. Cuomo has offered lukewarm support of a plan to overhaul and modernize the city transit system, and is in a perpetual feud with the city’s mayor over how much funding for the much-needed upgrades and improvements should come from state taxpayers.

Even though the MTA primarily serves downstate residents, it does affect those of us living upstate because we’re contributing a significant amount of our tax dollars to it, including $836 million to fund the first phase of a Subway Action Plan and another $400 million next year through a new tax on for-hire vehicle trips (taxis, Uber and Lyft)

On economic development, the two candidates also differ on their approaches.

The governor, in his two terms, has supported grants and loans to big businesses to locate and expand in the state. Programs such as the Buffalo Billion and the regional economic development councils have been used to varying degrees of success. The governor also has proposed a $100 billion infrastructure plan to increase the state’s competitiveness in the global economy.

Molinaro has called on the state to take a different approach to economic development, calling for an end to state grants to privately held corporations. He says he’ll ban companies that contribute to New York political campaigns from receiving state tax breaks or other taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies.

On government corruption, while Cuomo has come out in favor of reforms, there are a lot of potentially effective solutions still available that the governor either hasn’t supported or has supported without throwing the full weight of his office behind.

Molinaro has chastised the governor for recent criminal convictions related to development projects he supported. He also has proposed such anti-corruption solutions as term limits and creating a statewide ethics commission that has authority to take action.

These are all important and complex problems, with each candidate articulating different solutions for them. But it’s difficult for the average New Yorker to figure out which approach is best.

One way to evaluate each plan is by having the two candidates stand on the same stage and debate the pros and cons of each of their policies face to face.

Let each candidate critique the other’s ideas, challenge their figures and defend their own approaches.

Have the governor, for instance, produce statistics that show why his approach to economic development is the correct one. Have Molinaro explain how he’s going to cut property taxes and not raise state taxes at the same time. 

Give them each adequate time to articulate their positions, criticize each other and provide rebuttals.

Well-run debates are a good way to give voters what they need to make a sound decision. Yet as of Monday afternoon, the governor had rejected calls for debates.

This so-called “Rose Garden strategy” is based on the theory that it’s safer politically not to give your opponent any opportunity to criticize your record. Just spend money on ads, stay out of the fray and hope what voters already know about you carries you to re-election.

That might be a solid strategy for an incumbent, but it’s not the best way to serve all New Yorkers.

During the Democratic primary against Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo conceded to one debate — a 90-minute affair staged at an odd time at the end of summer that was difficult for people to find online or on TV. 

During the debate, the candidates traded insults, but never debated upstate or statewide issues.

The result was a forum that wasn’t very helpful to voters.

Several debates — at least three — between the top two candidates for governor would give voters an opportunity to dig into each candidate’s positions.

Perhaps one debate could focus primarily on upstate issues, another primarily on downstate, and another on a broader spectrum of issues.

They could stage a fourth debate, bringing together independent Stephanie Miner, libertarian Larry Sharpe and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

But having five candidates for all three debates would be cumbersome and water down the discussion.

For expediency, and considering the reality of our two-party system, Cuomo and Molinaro need to go head to head in substantive forums that allow an honest and thorough debate of the issues.

There’s still time to pull these together.

The governor owes it to his constituents to give them this chance.

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