After speech, Cuomo looks to get agenda approved
ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered the opening shot of his election-year agenda with a State of the State speech that touched on a broad array of economic development, education and social initiatives.
Now he will have to shepherd his proposals through a Legislature where control remains split between Democrats and Republicans.
The speech to state lawmakers and invited guests at a convention hall near the state Capitol Wednesday promoted corporate tax cuts, $20,000 annual bonuses for highly rated school teachers, rebuilding airports and other infrastructure, and allowing limited use of medical marijuana.
The governor had already unveiled a sweeping $2 billion tax relief proposal this week that includes a cut in corporate tax rates and property tax rebates for homeowners in municipalities that meet certain thresholds.
“We have to examine the details of the tax cuts,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said after Cuomo’s speech. “We have to look at the fairness across the state and make sure we can continue our support of education and health care while giving up the revenues in the areas he’s talking about.”
The Assembly’s Democratic majority has already called for another state minimum wage hike, mirroring Democrats around the nation backing the populist issue.
Republicans who rule the state Senate in a coalition with breakaway Democrats have said their priority is a tax-cut package that includes corporate tax rate reductions and permanently capping property taxes.
Cuomo is seeking a second term this year, and Wednesday’s speech gave him a high-profile forum to promote his first three years while unveiling a series of proposals intended to please both social progressives and financial conservatives.
“We have much more to do, but we are energized by a new strength, a new pride and a new confidence. And let us build on that record of success,” Cuomo told a largely enthusiastic crowd.
On Wednesday, Cuomo proposed a $2 billion bond referendum for schools. If approved by voters, schools could use the money for wireless Internet connections, tablets to replace textbooks, interactive white boards and new pre-kindergarten classrooms.
The governor said “it is time to fulfill the state’s goal” of providing access for all children to all-day pre-kindergarten, but he didn’t mention how to pay for it. Universal pre-kindergarten is a signature proposal for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who clapped along with officials at Cuomo’s statement of support.
The governor said his medical marijuana initiative will help New Yorkers suffering from cancer and other severe ailments. He plans to allow 20 hospitals statewide to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer and some other severe ailments. Cuomo’s medical marijuana plan will be enacted by administratively, not through legislation, and will be more restrictive than programs in some other states like California.
The limited plan was greeted by some in Cuomo’s Democratic base, though advocates want a more sweeping legalization of marijuana.
He also announced new initiatives designed to attract more international business to the state and to increase exports, a timetable for casino development, starting with the appointment of a siting board this month, and a commitment to upgrade Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York City.
With a series of public corruption cases roiling the Legislature, Cuomo called for increased penalties for official misconduct and tighter disclosure rules that require greater disclosure of conflicts of interest.
The State of the State acts as the opening shot of the annual legislative session, which will go on for months.
Highlights from State of the State address
– Support for universal all-day pre-kindergarten programs statewide.
– A new SUNY College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, with former New York City police Commissioner Ray Kelly as a special adviser.
– A $2 billion “Smart Schools” bond referendum to help modernize classrooms.
– A “Teacher Excellence Fund” to give teachers rated highly effective up to $20,000 in annual supplemental compensation.
– Finalize plans for siting new casino resorts upstate by early fall.
– A $2.2 billion package of tax relief for New York residents and businesses.
– Increasing the New York estate tax threshold to $5.25 million from $1 million.
– An “Upstate-Downstate Food-to-Table Summit” to link farmers with new markets.
– A “New York State Adventure License,” a driver’s license with icons for all of an individual’s sporting licenses, the Boater Safety Certificate and the lifetime Empire Pass to state parks.
– Freeze property taxes for some owners and provide a refundable personal income tax credit to give some renters property tax relief.
– A goal of awarding 5 percent of state contracts to the businesses of disabled veterans.
– Launch a pilot medical marijuana research program allowing up to 20 hospitals to provide the drug to patients with certain serious illnesses.
– Take over responsibility for airport construction from the Port Authority and modernize the JFK and LaGuardia airports.
– Upgrade parts of the New York City commuter rail system to protect it from disasters and increase capacity.
– Study improvements in the road network linking I-81 in Watertown to I-87 in Champlain.
– Replacing and repairing 104 older bridges at risk due to increasing flooding.
– Crack down on drunk and drugged driving, including revoking the licenses of people convicted three times in their lives.
– A law that would suspend a driver’s license for from six months to a year for anyone under age 21 convicted of texting-while-driving.