Sharpe seeks a less paternal government

Libertarian candidate for governor shares ideas

Larry Sharpe speaks at the Enterprise office Wednesday, June 27. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

SARANAC LAKE — Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe used a family metaphor to show how he wants to change New Yorkers’ relationship with their state government: “I don’t want to be your dad. I don’t want to be your mom. I want to be your brother.

“You call your brother up, you don’t want to hang out with him every day, you don’t want him living with you, but when you’re in trouble, you call him up: ‘Hey brother, can you give me a ride?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, no problem, let me get over there.'”

That analogy came toward the end of a 90-minute editorial board interview at the Enterprise office last week, during a discussion about sewer pipes. Sharpe, a New York City native who grew up in the south Bronx, wants private companies to sponsor public infrastructure projects. He’d rather put a corporation’s name on the rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge than that of Gov. Mario Cuomo, father of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared the naming. Sharpe calls that “an imperial bridge.”

But what about a smaller example like Lake Placid’s sewer main, which was leaking into Mirror Lake and was recently repaired, largely with state grants? Instead of immediately hitting up taxpayers, Sharpe said, there may have been companies interested in putting their name on the project and paying for it.

What about a less famous village? Saranac Lake or Tupper Lake might not attract corporate sponsorship like their Olympic host neighbor, but is their plumbing less important? No, Sharpe said: “There will be emergencies that the state will always help because we’re not going to let people die.”

He’d like local governments to treat Albany like a fire department: “‘When you need help, you call us,’ not ‘I’m Superman, and I can look over everything and make sure everything is perfect.'”

No unfunded mandates

Libertarians generally believe in reducing the size of government, but instead of listing which programs to cut, Sharpe says he wants to fundamentally change New York’s approach.

He would start by eliminating unfunded mandates. Then, if the state decides local governments must do something, New York taxpayers must pay for it. If the state passes and local governments want it anyway, the cost is on their taxpayers.

“Now when that happens, there’s going to be a shakeup, no question,” he said. “People will say, ‘Whoa, Larry, I can’t get what I want now. I can’t get all my services.’ You can, absolutely. You’ve just got to show up and vote for them.

“The problem is that over 70 percent of New Yorkers don’t vote. They’re not engaged. They’re sitting back, letting the king do his work and praying for a good king. This is not how America is supposed to work.”

Sharpe’s approach is to allow freedom but require transparency, “and you see what things begin to fail, and then you fix, and then you share.”

He said these principles come from the private sector.

“People say all the time, ‘Larry, how do you know Libertarians can actually lead? There are none in charge of anything.’ Yes, there are — every successful business in the United States.”

He also supports a “charitable choice credit” in which each taxpayer could commit up to $250 of his or her taxes to a nonprofit service provider, or $500 in the person’s home county. For instance, he said, people could use this to support a private group that helps children with special needs better than the local government program does.

Private groups would have to compete to keep taxpayers giving to them, and with mandates gone, Sharpe expects that in some places, the government service could be eliminated.

Eliminate income tax

“I’m not about cutting taxes; I’m about reducing spending,” Sharpe said. “Taxes will come down by themselves. Generally speaking, tax cuts are just shifting the tax burden or increasing debt.”

Yet his four-year goal is to eliminate the state income tax entirely. The first key, he said, is to negotiate pension payments out of the state budget and into 401(k)-style plans.

“That will take time,” he said, “but it has to be done, or it’s going to explode.”

He also wants to raise Medicaid co-pays from single-digit dollars to $12 for a doctor visit and $36 for an ambulance, which he believes is still affordable.

Leasing infrastructure naming rights to corporations is another part of his plan.

“They spend 10, 20 or 30 million dollars on a stadium that gets used half a year and mentioned a couple days a week,” he said. “You telling me they wouldn’t spend 100 million on a bridge that has literally millions of people crossing it every single day, is mentioned hundreds of times during rush hour twice a day in a metro area of 60 million people?”

Sharpe said these companies would also have to take over maintenance of the infrastructure they sponsor and eliminate tolls.

“They’re not going to put up with potholes,” he said. “They’re not going to put up with six guys standing around while one guy shovels.”

Sharpe suggested this could work for a dozen tunnels and bridges in the New York City area, as well as the Erie Canal.

“Maybe McDonald’s will buy all the locks — awesome,” he said. “Give us $2 billion; own the Erie Canal for two years. You fix it, make it nice, put a couple ‘M’s, arches on it — life is good.”

Retail politics

For many candidates, a campaign donation is the price of admission to meet them face to face. As Sharpe tours the state, he prefers to set up at a local business and ask those he meets to buy something there.

He says franchises are now dominating local economies because they can outsource expenses such as human resources and marketing. Franchises have their place, he said, but their corporate lobbyists also help write government regulations that hurt mom-and-pop competitors. A $50,000 fine for a safety violation is “pocket change” for a global chain, but “if you’re a small business owner, you’re finished,” Sharpe said.

“Government regulation and licensing is becoming so harsh the small business owner can’t handle it,” he said. “If you reduce the licensing requirements, if you reduce some of the HR requirements and some of the insurance requirements for small businesses, you will find more people surviving as non-franchisees.”

He wants fewer regulations but more standards — competing standards, ideally. Health food stores, he said, are an industry with few FDA regulations but all kinds of competing standards: organic, fair trade, free range, GMO free, etc.

He described New York’s licenses for occupations such as barbers and dog walkers as “barriers to entry and a tax on the poor.” He would be fine with the state setting standards for cutting hair, “but don’t stop me from doing it. I must be transparent: ‘I do not have a state license; here’s my shop.’ If you care about a state license, you won’t go there. If you don’t care, you’ll go. Let the consumer decide, let the taxpayer decide, let the resident decide what they want and don’t want.”

Sharpe wants to make New York small businesses immune to federal regulations if they only sell their products within the state.

“But again, transparent: You must list, ‘We do not follow federal guidelines or regulations,'” he said. “The 7-acre farm can now be successful because it doesn’t have to be a 300-acre farm. The small business that’s just selling locally can now compete with the franchise.”

Guns

Sharpe is strongly against New York’s SAFE Act, a package of gun-control measures passed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. He says it turned many legal gun owners into criminals overnight.

“Bad laws should be ignored,” he said.

If elected, he said he would begin a wave of pardons for SAFE Act crimes, veto funding of the act and make its enforcement the “absolute lowest priority.

“When people get their rights, they don’t all of a sudden start killing people,” he said. “Then when people see it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, this SAFE Act is dumb. This SAFE Act does have no value.’ … And by 2020 I’ll have given the Assembly and Senate air cover for them to repeal it.”

His chances

Sharpe has been left out of the mainstream polls, which so far show Cuomo defeating his Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon and Republican Marc Molinaro by wide margins. Sharpe cites a Gravis Marketing poll that shows 6 percent of voters choosing him, and 24 percent of those who know who he is. Gravis Marketing gets a C+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, a statistical analysis website owned by ABC News, which found it called 67 percent of races correctly in the 108 polls FiveThirtyEight analyzed.

Yet Sharpe is optimistic, even against the incumbent he calls “King Andrew.”

“This is a winnable race,” Sharpe said. “Six months ago I didn’t think that.

“I’m still climbing Mount Everest; don’t get me wrong,” he added, “but some people climb Mount Everest.”

He thinks new independent candidate Stephanie Miner could draw votes away from Cuomo. Add Molinaro, the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins and Nixon, if she stays in after the primary, and Sharpe figures he could eke out a win with 30-some percent of the votes.

Sharpe scorned Molinaro as a “sacrificial lamb” and says the GOP “has given up. They just want second place.” He said Nixon and Hawkins are motivated, and Nixon is good at getting press coverage, but she doesn’t know politics.

Miner, however, he described as “a savvy politician. I wish she was on my side. … I fear her the most.”

Nixon appears to have drawn Cuomo to the left, but Sharpe said Cuomo isn’t really adopting her positions — just talking about it.

“He’s not really a Democrat,” Sharpe said. “He’s a Cuomo-ite. He’d be a Republican tomorrow, he’d be a Libertarian tomorrow, he’d be Green Party if he thought he could win.”

Whereas Cuomo defines “New York values,” Sharpe says he respects the state’s diversity, politically and culturally.

“I don’t care how liberal or conservative you are,” he said. “I just want you to be left alone.”

Sharpe acknowledges that trying things his way may fail sometimes, “but if we change the actual culture, we will find an answer.” He doesn’t have that answer now, and doesn’t think he should.

“What, am I the magic man?” he said. “That’s how we got here now, is by thinking that some guy is going to walk into Albany and have all the answers.”

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