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Magic is about the art of distraction. The magician will wave his right hand while hiding a rabbit in his hat with his left before pulling that same rabbit out of the hat — to the crowd’s amazement. The trick itself isn’t that amazing when it’s figured out, but the art is in the distraction. Most political cronies aren’t quite as talented as David Copperfield or David Blaine (fortunately), though they often attempt this same sleight of hand with taxpayer money.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., is proving that his cronyism has more in common with one of those beginner magic sets instead of the more advanced smoke and mirrors the pros use. In fact, Cuomo has just been caught by both the Right and Left attempting to funnel money toward his friends.

Recently, a commission appointed by Cuomo, New York’s Public Service Commission, approved a statewide Clean Energy Standard. The commission called for 50 percent of New York’s energy to come from carbon-neutral sources by 2030.

This is the magician waving his hand.

The catch, besides the unbelievably short time frame, is that the Public Service Commission also included a new tax worth $8 billion that will go to nuclear power plant owners in New York. Now, $8 billion is a lot of money designated for non-carbon-neutral energy when the goal is carbon-neutrality.

Just like that, the magician is caught stuffing the rabbit in the hat.

Nuclear power is amazing, but it doesn’t get the state any closer to Cuomo’s goal of 50 percent carbon-neutral power by 2030. That means that instead of taxing New Yorkers to accomplish his goal, Cuomo just taxing them for the benefit of his crony friends. This is just sloppy cronyism, and Cuomo is now getting pushback from the groups that have caught him rabbit-handed.

It isn’t just groups on the Right that have caught Cuomo. Four left-leaning groups recently held a press conference in Albany, N.Y., to oppose the governor’s plan. The New York Public Interest Research Group, Food and Water Watch, Alliance for a Green Economy and Public Utilities Law Project all announced the formation of a new project: Stop the Cuomo Tax.

The groups don’t mince words on their new website. “Gov. Cuomo wants to increase our electric bills to bail out old, unprofitable nuclear power plants,” it says. “The tax will cost hard-working New Yorkers nearly $8 billion. Our money will go to plant owner Exelon, a Chicago-based Fortune 100 company with annual revenues of over $34 billion.”

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The pushback has only just begun. As it turns out, Cuomo’s new tax on New Yorkers isn’t even going to go into the pockets of the cronies. That’s because the company, Exelon, that owns two (and soon to be all three) of New York’s nuclear power plants was just ordered to pay the Internal Revenue Service $1.45 billion in back taxes (Yes, that’s billion with a B). Their tax bill comes from an issue regarding leases on power plants they own in their home state of Illinois.

To recap, Cuomo’s magic trick was supposed to be the unveiling of a shiny new carbon-neutral energy plan to save the world. However, to perform that trick, his commission decided it was necessary to tax New Yorkers to give money to the owners of a non-carbon-neutral energy company that already owes taxes to the federal government. The people of New York are going to pay the tax bill for an Illinois company because a commission they didn’t elect decided they should.

Cuomo should suspend the implementation of his horrible, crony-inspired plan. The environment is important, but when $8 billion of his plan is taxes that won’t help the environment, Cuomo is undermining his own argument. Worse, he is undermining any public policy that would effectively deal with any actual climate changes and alienating the people his tax will hurt. The regressive nature of the tax is bad, but the Left understands that Cuomo’s commission does more than just implement a new tax — their plan undermines almost everything that the Left has worked the last decade to do.

Erasing a decade of “progressive” policies is a trick I can support, but probably not the one Cuomo intended. Not even Harry Houdini could have pulled off the magic trick he’s trying.

Charles Sauer is a contributer to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Market Institute and previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor and for an academic think tank. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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