Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped at the Watertown airport this afternoon for a bill signing ceremony at a time when his girlfriend's alleged connections to the gas industry have been called into question.
The governor ceremonially signed the new texting while driving law today. He also told reporters after singing the bill that he has changed the regulations to raise the penalty for using a cell phone while driving, whether you are texting or not, from two points on your license to three. That puts cell phone use on the same level as reckless driving.
The event comes the day after the consumer advocacy group called Food and Water Watch called upon Cuomo to disclose his live-in girlfriend's connections to the oil and gas industry. The advocacy group is upset with the state Department of Environemntal Conservation's recommendation to open up 85% of the Marcellus Shale in New York to gas fracking. Fracking is a controversial natural gas drilling process.
The Food and Water Watch wrote a letter to the governor referring to a Wall Street Journal article noting that his girlfriend, Sandra Lee , spoke at a "conference of petroleum executives" in March. Since Cuomo and Lee are not married, she is under no obligation to disclose her income from speaking engagements, according to Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "We believe it's time the Cuomo administration take steps to ensure transparency in regard to its dealings with this industry, especially since the entire nation is watching to see what New York State will do regarding natural gas fracking." wrote Hauter.
In response to the group's call, Cuomo says, "I don't know anything about their campaign. The DEC has released a report. I think it's a balanced report. It's out for public comment, and we'll see where it goes." When asked by CNY Central's Jim Kenyon whether the environmentalists delivered a "low-blow," Cuomo responded by saying, "I don't characterize. In my business I don't characterize other people's actions."
Food and Water Watch is also launching a political ad targeting the governor in hopes of convincing him to ban fracking in New York State.
In Watertown today, The governor also addressed a number of other topics. He says one priority next year will be pension reform. "The cost of public pension in the out years is staggering, and his a burden that the taxpayer of this state can't afford."
He answered critics to his two percent property tax cap who complained that it was not accompanied by mandate relief by saying "Welcome to the economy." The governor says "You have taxes going up in this state six, seven, eight percent, and every year taxpayers' paychecks aren't going up six, seven, or eight percent." Nevertheless, Cuomo pointed out that the state budget does contain $125 million in mandate relief.
On his decision to close seven prisons, which could put hundreds of state workers in CNY out of a job, the governor says, "We have extra beds in state prisons. We need to save money. So, we close facilities...the downside is people who work at that prison may be out of a job." Cuomo did say, however, that he will extend economic assistance to communities hard hit by prison closings.
Do you think Sandra Lee should be required to disclose her dealings with lobby groups and special interests because she is the governor's girlfriend? What is your opinion on the other topics Cuomo touched on today? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.